Despite NASAMS, Kyiv Says Russia Is ‘Deceiving’ Ukrainian Defenses By Using Decoy Missiles & Balloons

To deceive Ukraine’s air defenses, Russia has switched its aerial attack strategy and deployed decoy missiles without explosive payloads in addition to balloons, disclosed a senior Ukrainian official on February 16. 

The decoy missiles aim to overwhelm Ukraine’s air defense systems by providing an excessive number of targets, causing Ukraine’s air defenses to fire missiles and depleting vital resources.

According to Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Russians are altering their strategy as the war nears its one-year mark. 

In the AP interview, Podolyak noted that Russia wants to overburden Kyiv’s anti-aircraft system to gain an additional opportunity to attack infrastructure facilities. He also stated that Ukraine’s air defenses are evolving to meet the challenge.

Earlier, EurAsian Times had reported how Russia was draining NASAMS, Hawk, and IRIS-T Missile Defense Systems in the ongoing battle.

But almost a year after the Russian invasion, Moscow still pays a steep price in terms of manpower, resources, and diplomacy. The Ukrainian and Western sources claimed that the Russian military is facing a growing missile shortage.

A trailer-based launcher associated with one of Ukraine’s S-300PT systems during a firing exercise in the Kherson region in 2018., Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

Since October, it has repeatedly launched missiles and drones toward Ukraine to disrupt power grids and other critical infrastructure over the winter.

Podolyak claimed that Russia is experiencing “missile exhaustion” and that shortages are driving its change in strategy. He alleged that Russia is mixing “new missiles that have some value” with Soviet-era older missiles.

Podolyak emphasized that “we just don’t have enough shells” and reiterated Ukraine’s requests for long-range missiles, allowing it to attack Russian troop formations far behind the front lines.

He argued that increased weaponry supplies from Western partners would hasten the war’s end and that a protracted conflict would benefit Russia. 

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin began his full-scale invasion on February 24 last year, Ukraine’s inventory of Soviet air defense systems has stopped Russian Air Force from achieving air superiority.

Later, the United States and its European allies began supplying NATO-standard surface-to-air missile systems.

Moscow has not acknowledged that there are issues with the supply of weapons. Britain’s Defense Ministry, however, alleged in late November that Russia appeared to be stripping nuclear warheads from outdated cruise missiles before shooting the missiles at Ukraine as blanks.

File Image: Vladimir Putin and
Sergey Shoigu

Why Is Russia Switching Its Strategy?

The Russian military launched 36 missiles in a two-hour midnight burst on February 16, purporting to show the success of the changed Russian tactics, which some have interpreted as proof that Moscow is changing its brute-war strategy into something more nuanced. 

Ukrainian air defense systems reportedly gunned down 16 of them. This number indicates a lower success percentage than against some earlier Russian attack waves. 

The employment of what Podolyak referred to as “special air balloons” is another new element of Russia’s strategy. He did not elaborate on their alleged objective. Nonetheless, they might be used to deceive Ukrainian air defenses or gather information about them. 

According to Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, the Russian balloons reportedly have corner reflectors to trick air defenses.

These reflectors seem to be capable of fooling the incoming radar-guided missiles. The intention was for the Ukrainian air defense to confuse these for an assault drone, the Ukrainian Air Force claimed. 

radar reflector balloons
Russian balloon

This is not the first time Moscow has used corner radar reflectors in the ongoing war. According to a detailed analysis published in August 2022 in EurAsian Times, Russia used a network of pyramidal radar reflectors to trick the Ukrainians by placing them in the sea to the west of the Antonivsky bridge and close to the rail bridge. 

The Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat explained that the enemy wants their air defense systems to use ammunition on these balloons. Six of these balloons were spotted circling the capital on February 15. Many of them were shot down by Ukrainian air defenses.

The most recent Russian missile bombardment, which included cruise and other missiles, struck targets in the nation’s north, west, south, east, and center.

Russia has started using balloons in Ukraine after the Biden administration fired down a Chinese balloon, claiming it was geared to detect and gather intelligence signals. 

Nevertheless, Moscow’s balloons appear to be being used ahead of a strike by Iranian-supplied Shahed-type kamikaze drones. 

Thus, the change in strategy would undoubtedly benefit Russia since the Ukrainian air defense systems would be exhausted from repeatedly shooting down dummy missiles and balloons.