TechUkraine's Historic Interception of Russia's "Unstoppable" Missiles

Ukraine's Historic Interception of Russia's "Unstoppable" Missiles

Tu-22M aircraft with an attached Kh-22 missile
Tu-22M aircraft with an attached Kh-22 missile
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8:16 PM EDT, April 19, 2024

According to the Defence Blog portal, the Ukrainian Air Forces recently reported a significant achievement: the first-time interception of Russian Kh-22 missiles. This is particularly notable because the Ukrainians themselves previously deemed these missiles unstoppable. Let's delve into the capabilities that made them seem invincible.

Ukraine's efforts at repelling regular Russian attacks have largely depended on its air defense systems. Though it's challenging to intercept enemy missiles successfully, the Ukrainian military has generally managed to counter various threats from Russia effectively.

Among the arsenal employed by the Russian Federation is a weapon the Ukrainians, as recently as 2023, labeled “unstoppable”: the Raduga Kh-22 missiles. However, Defense Blog (citing the Ukrainian air forces under the command of Mykola Oleshchuk) has reported a groundbreaking development—the successful interception of these missiles on the night of April 18 (Eastern Time). While the interception details remain undisclosed, it was revealed that 2 out of 6 missiles launched from a Tu-22M3 bomber in the Black Sea region were successfully intercepted.

A breakthrough against the "unstoppable" weapon

The Kh-22 missile was developed in the late 1950s, when the USSR initiated research on a weapon coded D-2 in response to Britain's development of its Blue Steel missile system. The prototypes appeared in the early 1960s, and the new missiles were deployed on Tu-22 bombers by 1967.

Since its introduction, the Kh-22 missile has seen several upgrades, including two versions equipped with nuclear warheads in the 1970s: the Kh-22MA and Kh-22PSI, both designed for deployment from Tu-22 aircraft, including its subsequent M, M2, and M3 models, up to the present day.

The challenge in intercepting the Kh-22 stems from its remarkable speed during flight. Launched from several miles high, the missile ascends to about 12 miles before accelerating to speeds of around 3 Mach (approximately 2230 mph). As it nears its target, the missile enters a steep dive, accelerating further to speeds of up to 4 Mach (about 3107 mph), hitting its target with devastating force. The missile's sheer mass, nearly 5 tons, and the additional kinetic energy transferred upon impact amplify the destruction caused by its nearly 1-ton warhead.

Until recently, the Ukrainian forces had been unable to intercept any Kh-22 missiles, with more than 200 fired by Russia toward Ukraine. The recent successful interception of these previously “unstoppable” missiles likely involved advanced Western air defense systems, including the Patriot and SAMP/T.

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