Russia ‘Drains Out’ NASAMS, Hawk, IRIS-T Missile Defense Systems; Ukraine Urges US For Patriot Batteries

With Russia’s bombardment continuing unabated, Ukrainian officials have made renewed calls for air defense systems to prevent the country from becoming a black hole. 

Speaking to reporters, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba recently said his country needed “air defense, – IRIS, Hawks, Patriot.”

Russian missile attacks on Ukraine have predominantly targeted its energy infrastructure to curtail its war-fighting capabilities. Even though the West has supplied some advanced air defense systems like the NASAMS, Hawk, and the IRIS-T, Ukraine has maintained that it needs more to fight the Russian barrage of missiles raining down on its cities.

While Ukraine is pleading for more advanced air defense, a US official has said that Russia has resorted to a new ploy to exhaust the air defenses of Ukraine.

A senior US military official said on November 29 that Russia is firing unarmed cruise missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads at Ukraine to deplete Kyiv’s stocks of air defenses, Reuters reported.

The unnamed official was responding to questions regarding a previous British intelligence claim that Russia was likely firing nuclear-capable cruise missiles after removing nuclear warheads.

Ukrainian media reports have also suggested that Russia had fired the Kh-55 cruise missile after unscrewing its nuclear warhead and replacing it with a dummy. Going by these reports, a Kh-55 missile shot down over Kyiv on November 17 contained a “screwed-on” block that acted as a dummy imitator of a nuclear warhead.

Kh-55 Russia missile
Kh-55 Russian Missile

The British defense ministry had assessed that ballast was most likely being used in place of the warheads, a mechanism that would still cause damage due to the missile’s kinetic energy and unspent fuel. This is the first time a US official has commented on the evaluation.

The Pentagon has emphasized that Russia’s escalation in missile strikes in Ukraine partially aims to deplete Kyiv’s air defense supplies and eventually acquire dominance over the country’s skies.

As a result, the United States and its allies have prioritized providing Ukraine with air defense systems. This includes anything from residual Soviet-era systems to more recent Western technologies.

The US is believed to be considering arming Ukraine with its Patriot air defense systems, a Ukrainian request that it has been dithering on.

However, it could be worth considering whether the US and its NATO allies would transfer missile defense systems to Ukraine if Russia used unarmed missiles.

The advanced air defense systems transferred to Ukraine, and those under consideration fire costly missiles. Russia’s use of kamikaze drones has already led experts to believe that the odds were skewed in its favor due to the cost difference.

Some military experts believe that while the British intelligence is not incorrect, it could be a little misplaced and out of context.

A HAWK missile leaving its launcher

Russia’s Unarmed Missiles Not A New Phenomenon

In a Twitter thread, the UK MoD stated on November 26, 2022, “Russia is likely removing the nuclear warheads from aging nuclear cruise missiles and firing the unarmed munitions at Ukraine.”

After giving some plausible arguments, the thread concluded that “Russia almost certainly hopes such missiles will function as decoys and divert Ukrainian air defenses. Whatever Russia’s intent, this improvisation highlights the depletion in Russia’s stock of long-range missiles.”

The conclusion was also echoed by the Institute for the Study of War, which further stated: “Russian military’s likely use of a more strategic weapon system in the role of a decoy for Ukrainian air defenses corroborates ISW’s previous reporting that the Russian military has significantly depleted its arsenal of high-precision missiles.”

However, military expert and Indian Air Force veteran Squadron Leader Vijainder K Thakur explained that many Kh-55 SM missiles had been withdrawn from their strategic role with the induction of advanced induction of Kh-102 missiles into service.

According to data, Russia began equipping its Kh-55 SM missiles with inert warheads as early as 2015, following the introduction of the Kh-102 long-range, low-observable strategic cruise missile.

Kh-55 in the Ukrainian Air Force Museum (Wikipedia)

The Russian Air Force, for example, stated in 2015 that four MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors had successfully brought down a Kh-55 cruise missile during a test with the assistance of an A-50. Thakur further said that militaries worldwide are attempting to repurpose retired military systems.

Russia is likely using decoy Kh-55 SM missiles with inert warheads to lure Ukrainian air defense systems into lighting up to engage the missile, revealing their positions and exposing them to attack by Su-35S fighters armed with Kh-31 missiles, which, according to the RuMoD, are on patrol 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

That said, Russia continues to rain missiles on Ukrainian cities as the battle enters a very harsh winter. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces were “planning something” in the country’s south and described the situation at the front as complex, with intense fighting in the east, northeast, and south of Ukraine.

The Russian troops caught on a back foot have visibly upped the ante.