Russian Decoys Trick Ukrainian Air Defense While Kh-101 Stealth Missiles Deliver A Painful Blow

On May 1, 2028, Russian cruise missiles struck a painful blow to Ukrainian military infrastructure that significantly degraded Ukraine’s ability to launch a counter-offensive.

Russian cruise missiles struck a facility in the Ukrainian city of Pavlograd in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, causing a massive mushroom cloud blast, which by all reckoning was the granddaddy of all blasts so far in the conflict.

The RuMoD cryptically stated on May 1, 2023, “The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation launched a long-range high-precision air and sea-based missile strike against Ukrainian military-industrial complex facilities.

“The goal of the attack has been reached. All the assigned targets have been neutralized. The enterprises producing ammunition, weapons, and military equipment for Ukrainian forces have been disrupted.”

Multiple social media sources report that the likely target in Pavlograd was a plant in the city used for producing missile fuel and explosives.

Ukraine’s Version Of The Attack

Completely ignoring the fact that a cruise missile couldn’t have produced such a massive blast all by itself and video footage strongly suggests secondary explosions, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Military Administration Serhiy Lysak stated on his Telegram channel, “An industrial enterprise was damaged in Pavlograd.

“A fire broke out there, which the rescuers have already put out. In the residential area, 19 high-rise buildings, 25 private houses, six schools and pre-school education institutions, and five shops were mutilated.”

Considering the subsonic terminal speed of a cruise missile and its relatively small warhead, it’s highly likely that one or more missiles struck rocket fuel containers or motors that were placed either in the open or under light protective cover.

Ordinarily, explosives and incendiary material is stored in deep underground facilities safe from even large warhead aerial attacks. The fact that large quantities of rocket motors and/or fuel were in the open would suggest that the incendiary cargo was about to be transported. Russian Aerospace Forces (RuAF) appear to have struck precisely when the vulnerability was greatest, suggesting superior intelligence.

Russia’s meticulous planning is also evident because Russia made a great effort to spoof and deceive Ukrainian air defense (AD). A large number of Russian bombers (some reports suggest nine Tu-95 and two Tu-160) got airborne. Strangely, according to multiple sources, they launched just 18 cruise missiles!

Kh-101 missile
File Image

According to Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Russia began launching missiles at Ukraine around 2:30 a.m., using strategic aircraft, nine Tu-95 aircraft, and two Tu-160 aircraft.

He says, in total, Ukraine’s air defense shot down 15 out of 18 air-launched Kh-101 and Kh-555 cruise missiles.

Kh-101 – Stealth, Destructive Power, And Accuracy

The Kh-101 is a low-observable cruise missile with a reported operational range of 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles). The missile’s guidance package features an inertial navigation system (INS), a terrain contour matching (TERCOM) system, a digital scene-matching area correlation (DSMAC) system, and a GPS/GLONASS receiver.

According to the open sources, the Kh-101 has a combat weight of 2,400 kilograms (including a warhead of 400 kilograms). (The Kh-555, referred to by Zaluzhnyi, is an older, non-stealthy, and less accurate variant of the Kh-101.)

The accuracy of the Kh-101 missile, in combination with the 400-kilogram warhead, gives it a considerable punch making it suitable for use against hardened targets.

The Ukrainian claim that only three Kh-101 missiles slipped through Ukrainian AD must be taken with due circumspection. The Ministry of Energy of Ukraine reports that the missile strike significantly damaged the network infrastructure in the Kherson and Dnepropetrovsk regions, and reports of power outages in Kyiv and Odesa would suggest a few more than three missiles slipped through.

Russian Deception

A single Tu-95 can carry 14 Kh-101 missiles (six internally, eight externally). A single Tu-160 can carry 12 Kh-101 missiles internally in its bomb bay. Then there is the RuMoD claim that some missiles were launched from the sea surface. There is a mismatch in the number of missiles reportedly launched and the number of platforms that reportedly got airborne to launch the missiles.

It’s possible that Russia launched some of its bombers simply to rattle and confuse Ukrainian AD. It’s also possible that some of the bombers launched decoys to send Ukrainian AD on a wild goose chase. Most likely, it was a combination of both.

Some of the Russian bombers appear to have launched Kh-55 missiles as decoys. The @milinfo Telegram Channel (TC) reports that one Kh-55 decoy missile was found shot down in the Kyiv region. Also, the @Rybar TC posted a photo of a crude drone that fell in one of the regions of Ukraine.

Kh-55 Old Gold

The Kh-55 is a Soviet-era strategic missile with a range of up to 2,500 kilometers. In an earlier analysis, we detailed how Russia has repurposed the strategic missile developed to carry a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead as a decoy. Indeed, the repurposing has been so successful that according to Ukrainian officials, Russia has rebooted production of the missile!

Kh-55 Russia missile
Kh-55 Russian Missile

A few Kh-55 missiles cruising deep into Ukrainian airspace, tracking on cleverly programmed waypoints, could put Ukrainian AD in complete disarray. Ukrainian AD cannot ignore the missiles assuming they have been repurposed as decoys, as Russia may well have repurposed some of the missiles to carry conventional warheads. Considering that the missile warhead weighs 410 kilograms, the destructive capability of the missile is significant.

The decoys launched by RuAF not only diverted Ukrainian AD’s attention but also forced Ukraine to needlessly expend scarce Soviet and expensive Western anti-aircraft missiles shooting down decoys.

Hitting Ukrainian Forces When They Are Most Vulnerable

In a recent analysis, we pointed out that RuAF cruise missile attacks are now focused on battlefield interdiction instead of infrastructure degradation, as in the past. The aim is to degrade Ukrainian offensive capability when it is most vulnerable – during relocation to the battlefront.

The April 28, 2023, cruise missile attack struck troops and equipment moving to the battlefront. The attack on May 1, 2023, most likely interdicted missiles being moved to the battlefront in preparation for the Ukrainian counter-offensive. Both the attacks involved a smaller number of missiles as compared to the numbers used for infrastructure attacks.

The tactics being employed by the RuAF have improved. Using medium-altitude drones such as the Orion, and possibly Tu-214R, a Russian reconnaissance aircraft fitted with cutting-edge optical and electronic equipment and radar systems, the RuAF is identifying and pinpointing high-value targets for pinpoint attacks by sophisticated cruise missiles. Simultaneously, it’s using disinformation and deception to dupe Ukrainian AD.

  • Vijainder K Thakur is a retired IAF Jaguar pilot. He is also an author, software architect, entrepreneur, and military analyst. VIEWS PERSONAL
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