Ukrainian air defense uses Patriot systems in ways that surprised the US – expert interview

24 May, 12:49 AM
Patriot air defense in Poland (Photo:REUTERS/Kacper Pempel)

Patriot air defense in Poland (Photo:REUTERS/Kacper Pempel)

Possible damage to the Patriot air defense system has unnerved some Ukrainians. But don't worry, says Ivan Kirichevskiy, an expert from Ukrainian military news publication Defense Express, in an interview with Radio NV.

He believes that Ukrainian air defense forces, working after an accelerated training course, managed to squeeze something out of the Patriot system that even the United States did not think was possible.

Kirichevsky spoke to Radio NV about why the most intense Russian missile salvo on Ukraine turned out to be a failure, and why Kyiv may be the most protected city on earth.

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NV: Let's try to dot the i's and once again explain to the Ukrainian who are already worried about the Patriot more than their own health, that even a missile hit does not mean that Kyiv is left without protection. The Patriot is not a single installation, but a large number of everything that is protecting Kyiv.

Kirichevsky: If we consider the most pessimistic version at the moment, that a strike by a Kinzhal damaged a Patriot launcher, and not so much that it had to be taken back to the manufacturing plant in the United States, but that it could be repaired here, then there is nothing to worry about.

Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that the enemy reaches our anti-aircraft missile systems and damages them. According to official data, at the beginning of a full-scale invasion, the Russians were able to damage 100 units of various equipment in the first days. Actually, they believed that they had already destroyed our air defense three times over, but surprise - by April [2022], our air defense forces and repairmen were able to fix the equipment.

Unfortunately, photos from Kherson Oblast showing our S-300s destroyed in the first hours and days of the full-scale invasion were in the public domain. The fact that the occupiers were able to significantly damage our air defenses in some areas, unfortunately, was then the key to their success.

In comparison to the horror that we went through, unconfirmed reports that a strike by one Russian Kinzhal hit a Patriot launcher – and in such a way that it can be repaired here in the field rather than shipped back to the United States – is a significant fiasco for the Russians.

The Russians did not create their Kinzhal to be accurate as to hit targets as small as the components of a Patriot complex. Roughly speaking, the Patriot launcher is the size of a cargo truck. It is placed on a trailer, and the trailer is attached to a truck.

The Patriot complex itself is a battery of four launchers, each of which is spaced ten kilometers apart, with its command post another 15 km away.

Even if there was decisive damage to the Patriot system from a Kinzhal, it shows how much more danger our air defense forces were able to repel that night. There was a massive attack on Kyiv with hypersonic missiles which, had it gone as the Russians had planned, would have caused horrors that are hard to imagine.

Add to this averted horror the fact that in addition to the six [Kinzhals], the Patriot system managed to shoot down 10 more Iskander missiles and [missiles from] Russian S-400 systems, which were considered impossible to shoot down.

Therefore, our air defense forces that night shot down 16 missiles that were considered impossible to intercept.

The Russians, it turns out, now invented this whole story on the fly, that they destroyed or damaged something, because after the first Kinzhal was shot down, they began to spin this propaganda bagpipe, supposedly they have another “unmatched” supersonic anti-radar missile called the Kh-31PD, which has a firing range of 300 km. And this is such a perfect missile that it can, as they say, present a challenge to Patriot systems.

Look, somehow this one “wunderwaffe” was blown away by them.  And what else is there for this clown [Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman] Konashenkov to come up with after that? He come up with this nonsense that their Kinzhal was able to hit a target the size of a truck.

A few days before the invasion, the Russian invaders were training in their Grom-2022 exercises, waving their nuclear baton. There, perhaps for the first time, they publicly showed the launch of this Kinzhal. What is interesting is that with these Kinzhals they aimed at a large five-story building, and not at a small trailer. It’s also worth noting that the Kinzhal did not hit the five-story building, but instead fell nearby.

NV: Can we say, after that very dense attack, perhaps cautiously, that Kyiv is now protected?

Kirichevsky: Let's wait for a sufficient number of events to talk about a trend. Relatively speaking, if the Russians try to repeat the attack with Kinzhals, it will be possible to make this sort of claim of success.

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On one hand, there is a good effect, and on the other hand, Defense Minister Reznikov said a very sharp and unpleasant thing: it turns out that the Russians had as many as 80 Kinzhals at the beginning of May. This shows that they were able, unfortunately, to up the rate of production of these missiles five-fold.

Based on information from the beginning of January, the Russians had a maximum of 53 Kinzhals. They managed to fire some at us. Thus, they can produce up to 10 such missiles per month.

Accordingly, their abilities are limited only by the number of serviceable MiG-31K aircraft that they can put up in the air simultaneously. It seems that 6 MiG-31K aircraft is their maximum, with 10-12 aircraft available on paper. Reports that a Kinzhal can supposedly be mounted on a Tu-160 or Tu-122M3, fortunately, are just not correct.

The Russians had announced plans to give these strategic bombers capability with Kinzhals, but they could not do it.

It is possible that there will be more than one Kinzhal attacks on Kyiv from the Russians. And if these attacks keep getting repelled, then we can already say that Kyiv will be the most protected city in our country, perhaps not only in Ukraine, but also on the planet.

The Patriot system managed to shoot down a target as difficult as Kinzhal. Why are Western experts now declaring: “We knew that the Kinzhal is not a hypersonic missile!”. As I understand it, even the developers of the Patriot or the American THAAD anti-missile system, which was considered the only one that could shoot down such targets, will be thinking about this this for a very long time. Perhaps they will make some constructive decisions.

NV: For the first time, rockets from S-300 or S-400 AA systems hit Kyiv in January. Then they said that this was potentially one of the biggest dangers for Kyiv, because these missiles also could not be shot down. Now we hear that several of these missiles flew at Kyiv, but none of them reached their targets. Therefore, the city can be protected from these missiles.

Kirichevsky: The General Staff later clarified: there were not three missiles of this type, but 10.

Here, you know, there is a technical problem: how to shoot down an anti-aircraft missile with another anti-aircraft missile. Neither the U.S. instructors, nor the Israelis, who like to promote themselves, had any idea what high-tech weapons they were creating. Because the S-400’s anti-aircraft can reach a speed of more than 5,000 kilometers per hour.

Unfortunately, until now no one had the faintest idea of how to shoot down such missiles, not even our Air Force, I believe.

Let's recall the loudest and most enthusiastic assessments that were that "when we get Patriots, we will be able to fight at least these Iskander ballistic missiles and Kh-22 missiles." More complex air targets, like the Kinzhal and anti-aircraft missiles for the S-400, were not discussed. It was believed that this was a threat that could never be removed. And here, thank God, the Russians had “something go wrong."

NV: After the attack, I began to read that even for the U.S. Patriot manufacturer, this event was something stunning, unusual, a real smashing success. That is, Ukraine, in fact, has once again become a promo for Western-style equipment, a kind of proving grounds?

Kirichevsky: There is one example that has been repeatedly named, but, unfortunately, it is the only marker in this story.

There is the glorious country of Saudi Arabia, which has 200 Patriot launchers. What does this mean? To illustrate: the U.S. Army has only 400. This is a lot, especially for Saudi Arabia. Of course, in addition to 200 launchers, there is [Avenger] to cover the appropriate infrastructure, and even U.S. instructors to help regularly. Not to mention that Saudi Arabia has its own AWACS aircraft.

The story is roughly that about once every two to three months, the Yemeni Houthis bombard Saudi Arabia with combined strikes using Shahed 136s, rather primitive ballistic missiles, and very primitive Kh-55 copies.

After our air defense forces shot down six Kinzhals at a time, then a similar combination every two or three months is [not so difficult]. And Saudi Arabia, with its air defense forces, who were trained by U.S. instructors, sometimes managed not to repulse such attacks.

In this context, the reputation of the Patriot systems was falling, globally. Until February 2022, the Russians tried sell potential buyers from the Middle East on their next “unmatched creations.” It's just such a marketing ploy: if you have some kind of bad weapon and it has inadequate characteristics, call it "unmatched."

They tried to sell the Abakan complex to Saudi Arabia to replace the Patriot. Saying it can shoot down ballistic targets. But for the most part, it was just a conversion of the S-300V4 on a wheeled chassis, where instead of four launchers there were just two. Literally Allah saved Saudi Arabia from doing such a stupid thing as buying these air defense systems from the Russians.

The United States thought for a long time, discussing whether to give us Patriots or not. It turns out that our air defense forces with crash course training literally squeezed out of the Patriot a capability that the Pentagon did not think was possible.

I will note another interesting philological and semantic detail. When CNN reported on the downing of the Kinzhal, they enthusiastically conveyed the words of a U.S. official: “Imagine, they were able to shoot several anti-aircraft missiles at once in such a short time – at least one, but it definitely hit the Kinzhal.”

When the U.S. forces first used Patriots during Operation Desert Storm, [there was] a story that to shoot down a single [Scud missile], you needed to fire 3 PAC-2 missiles, which can shoot down aircraft at a distance of 160 kilometers. This caused a storm of criticism among the experts saying "it is so expensive and uneconomical to fire three missiles to shoot down one." This criticism turned out to be productive. Afterwards, PAC-3 missiles were developed to counter ballistic targets. But it still shows how unexpected the successes of our air defense forces were for the U.S. side, for which it is greatly appreciative.

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