TechUkraine's anti-ballistic struggle: Russian Iskander missiles leave defenses in ruins

Ukraine's anti-ballistic struggle: Russian Iskander missiles leave defenses in ruins

Iskander-M missile just before hitting the target.
Iskander-M missile just before hitting the target.
Images source: © Reddit | UkraineRussiaReport
5:33 PM EDT, April 19, 2024

Ukrainians are facing a significant challenge with their anti-ballistic defense due to Russian attacks on crucial targets using Iskander-M ballistic missiles with impunity. We delve into their capabilities and the reasons why defending against them is challenging.

Depleted missile stocks for anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems such as S-300P and S-300V have left Ukrainians virtually defenseless against Russian Iskander-M-type ballistic missiles.

Only medium-range systems can counter these threats, but Western nations have supplied Ukraine with a mere handful (three Patriots and one SAMP/T), or four considering the recent announcement of a fourth Patriot battery by Germany. This number is insufficient for safeguarding all critical facilities. Notably, Kharkiv has been without any active system of this class for months.

Consequently, if Russian forces identify a target like a Ukrainian artillery loading point, they do not hesitate to deploy ballistic missiles on such prized targets. An example is a recorded strike that completely destroyed a warehouse serving the multiple rocket launcher systems RM-70, targeting the Russian city of Belgorod.

Unlocking the effectiveness of Iskander-M missiles

The notorious Iskander missile system, Russia's prominent "boogeyman," was developed in the early 1990s as a successor to the Tochka-U system. Its initial test launch was in 1996, and it became part of the Russian military arsenal a decade later.

This short-range ballistic system can hit targets up to approximately 311 miles away, carrying twin missiles with warheads weighing between 480 to 700 kg (about 1058 to 1543 lbs) that could be fragmentation-explosive, thermobaric, or even nuclear with a 50 kt yield.

Combining such immense destructive potential with its evasion capabilities against most anti-aircraft systems poses a significant challenge. Its ability to reach speeds up to Mach 7 (approximately 5333 mph) renders common handheld systems like PPZR Piorun, Mistral, or FIM-92 Stinger ineffective, as these are designed for non-maneuvering targets.

Gun systems like Gepard and short-range systems like NASAMS or IRIS-T also fall short. In practice, only high-class systems such as S-300, Patriot, and SAMP/T, effective up to about 25 miles from the launcher, can intercept ballistic missiles. Unfortunately, without these, Ukraine struggles to protect its critical infrastructure, including power plants and key frontline facilities.

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