1st Evidence! Germany’s ‘Much-Touted’ IRIS-T Defense System Used By Ukraine ‘Clashes’ With Russian Missile

Germany announced earlier this month that it was rushing to deliver the first IRIS-T SLM system in the wake of a massive Russian attack on Ukraine’s capital. Over a week later, the first photographic evidence of the system is flooding the internet.

The German government had received severe criticism for the slow transfer of advanced weaponry to Ukraine. While the US promised to expedite the delivery of NASAMS in the wake of Russia’s air raid, Berlin rushed to deliver the first unit of IRIS-T.

The wreckage of an IRIS-T SLM missile was photographed on October 19, reportedly in or close to the capital Kyiv. The internet was soon flooded with images of the IRIS-T missile’s tail portion lying on the ground.

This is significant as it comes at a time when Russia has been pounding Ukraine’s urban centers with cruise missiles and Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones.

As soon as the image went viral, social media sprang into action, and some military watchers suggested that the Russian long-range cruise missile Kh-101 was one of the targets eliminated by IRIS-T. However, EurAsian Times could not independently verify the targets that were struck (or not) by the IRIS-T surface-to-air missiles.

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the IRIS-T system has reportedly been deployed in southern Ukraine. From there, the system might be able to intercept Russian missiles fired from ships and submarines in the Black Sea that are destined for targets in important port cities and other places.

German officials claim they have already sent one fully operational IRIS-T SLM system and an unknown number of IRIS-T missiles and will eventually deliver three more. According to Diehl Defense, a typical single IRIS-T SLM system consists of three mobile launchers, a truck-mounted multi-function radar, and another truck modified as a command post vehicle.

The truck-mounted missile system is built to take out combat aircraft, attack helicopters, cruise missiles, rocket artillery, drones, anti-radar missiles, and bombs. It also features a multipurpose radar that can track multiple targets at once.

A high-precision terminal approach with significant direct hit probability is made possible by the missile’s imaging infrared (IIR) seeker. A data link is used to direct the interceptor missile toward its target, and once it is within striking distance, its infrared imaging seeker acquires the target for the last phase of the engagement.

The recent increase in Russian missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian sites and reports that Iranian authorities plan to sell short-range ballistic missiles to Russia only highlight the country’s need for more significant air and missile defenses. The US is also moving to help Ukraine establish an integrated layered missile defense system.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that IRIS-T SLM had demonstrated itself exceptionally and is a truly effective system. Meanwhile, the defense minister for Ukraine, Oleksii Reznikov, had also thanked his German counterpart, Christine Lambrecht, through Twitter for facilitating the agreement.

Is IRIS-T Fending Off Russian Attacks?

While social media users backing Ukraine believed that the IRIS-T could be credited with the lion’s share of missiles taken down after it was deployed, the images released on the internet led to some skepticism among military experts.

According to Indian Air Force veteran Squadron Leader Vijainder K Thakur (retd), “The wreckages suggest that the missile self-destructed after failing to strike the target. The rear rocket motor section would have been extensively damaged if it had struck the target from a direct hit or proximity fuse detonation. The rear section would have been unrecognizable.”

Pro-Russian Twitter accounts took a jibe at the IRIS-T surface-to-air missile by saying that the system was “sleeping” and could not deal a blow to Russian missiles and drones.

On October 17, a drone storm was reported in Kyiv, with about 22 explosions rocking the capital. This led military watchers to quickly suggest that Ukrainian air defenses, including the IRIS-T, were not working.

However, soon after the IRIS-T’s use in Ukraine became known, the Defense Ministry of Ukraine tweeted: “More Iranian drones and Russian missiles have gone the way of the Russian warship,” which could be understood as a reference to the sinking of Moskva in April. Ukraine claimed to have downed several kamikaze drones deployed by Russia in the last week, a trend it claims is continuing.

The cost differential between the kamikaze drones deployed by Russia and the Surface to Air missiles used by Ukraine has also become a point of discussion. Shahed-136 suicide drones are way cheaper than missiles used to destroy them. One Twitter user said, “Each IRIS-T missile costs $430,000; let that sink in.” The cost of one Shahed-136 is believed to be around $20,000.

That being said, given the barrage of missiles and kamikaze drones raining down on Ukraine’s urban centers and civilian infrastructure, Ukraine has placed its best bet on air defense systems. Rafael Loss, a defense specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), stated that although the new systems were not necessarily the “game changer,” the Ukrainians had been touting them as they were likely to improve Ukraine’s defenses greatly.

“As they receive more and more sophisticated systems that they can integrate into their existing systems, […] mass missile strikes will be more difficult for the Russians to pull off, and there is a greater chance that fewer civilians and fewer military targets will be hit,” he told DW.

IRIS-T SLM ground-based air defense system

Diehl claims that the system is most effective in conjunction with other “layered air defense” systems, such as the Patriot PAC-3 missile defense system, which is produced in the US and has a higher maximum altitude.

The US administration stated last week that it hoped to quickly deploy the first two National Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) to Ukraine. American officials say the Ukrainian armed forces will get eight NASAMS in total. Even though NASAMS can launch various missiles, the system’s primary interceptor will be the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).

These advanced western air defense systems will help protect the Ukrainian skies as the aerial raid continues unabated.