Russian forces launched a massive 18-missile barrage on kyiv on Tuesday. All were shot, says Ukraine.
Using “onion rings” of various guns and missiles supplied by the West, Ukrainian air defenses are increasingly successful in thwarting Russian launches.
From Stinger missiles that can be carried by a single soldier to state-of-the-art Patriot systems, Ukraine now has a variety of options to defend its skies.
Sky News explained to military analyst Philip Ingram why kyiv’s air defenses are now so effective and the psychological boost it gives the population.
But let’s first go back to February 24, 2022 and the early hours of the full-scale invasion when Russia launched over 100 missiles from land and sea.
The missiles were fired at several cities, including kyiv, and targeted air defense installations and other military infrastructure. Sirens sounded in the capital and sounds of explosions were heard downtown, taking many by surprise.
Fourteen months later, Ukraine is much better prepared.
On Tuesday night, Kremlin forces launched six hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, nine Kalibr cruise missiles and three ground-launched missiles and drones at Ukraine. All were shot down, the country’s air force said.
Ukraine now shoots down around 96-98% of Russian missiles thanks to a number of defense elements working together, Mr Ingram told Sky News.
Defense of “onion rings”
“A layered air defense system is like a series of onion rings of air defense capability,” he said.
At the lowest level, Mr Ingram says, Ukraine has firearms and some of the short-range missiles like the UK-provided Starstreak man-portable system.
“There will be many who have troops in positions around cities or areas of critical national infrastructure.”
Ukraine then had a number of medium-range systems such as the Soviet S-300 and others supplied by its allies.
These provide mid-level anti-aircraft capability and also work against cruise missiles and drones.
And then, at the highest level, they have the Patriot system provided by the United States and Germany.
Mr Ingram added: “And you see it as a series of protective domes going to different heights and different distances around the target you’re trying to protect.”
While the defenses were certainly effective in bringing down the missiles, that doesn’t mean there’s no ground impact, he says. Debris from intercepted missiles falls from the sky and can injure people below.
How does Ukraine go from detecting a missile to shooting it down?
“So the sequence of events is that western intelligence will pick up a missile launch – there is a mechanism to be able to transmit it in real time directly to the Ukrainians.
“This real-time launch data will identify where the missiles were launched from, what the likely missile is, and the likely trajectory it is on.”
The time the Ukrainians have to react – from a few minutes to more than an hour – depending on the type of missile.
Air defense officials can then decide on the best course of action and engage the missile before it reaches its target.
It’s those multiple layers of defense under a single intelligence-informed command and control system that’s coming in all the time that makes it so effective, he says.
What does this mean for Ukraine’s war effort?
“This is yet another success for the Ukrainians in what is a very, very complex and difficult battle for them as they try to save their homeland,” Mr Ingram said.
Psychologically, it is also very important, he adds, because it is about protecting the population while the soldiers are on the front line.
“This is probably one of the factors that prevented the Russians from using their fixed-wing aircraft over Ukrainian territory,” he added.
“The Russians have largely confined themselves to flying no further than their own front lines.
“Now if the Ukrainians can move the air defense capability further to their front lines and put that bubble on their frontline troops, it will push Russian fixed-wing and rotary-wing air back even further and help the Ukrainians in any counterattack they’ve put together.”