As Western supplies of high-tech weapons flood into Ukraine for the spring offensive, Russia is also trying to bolster its arsenal.
It resorted to exchanging SU-35 fighter jets with Iran in exchange for a continued supply of Iranian Shahid 136 attacked drones and also fielded state-of-the-art missile systems for the first time.
But will these radical measures have a decisive impact on the course of the war?
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Iranian attack drones are neither sophisticated nor expensive, but allow Russia keep the night pressure on Ukraine’s limited air defense missile stocks.
However, such missiles are more of an “irritation” for Ukraine and have limited military utility.
In contrast, Russia’s latest generation of high-tech weapons – the KILLJOY hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile, described by President Vladimir Poutine as “invincible” – appeared to offer Moscow’s forces the chance to mow down Ukrainian defenses with impunity.
Before the KILLJOY was used, the West could only speculate on the missile’s capabilities, and so it possessed considerable mystical and deterrent capability.
However, as soon as it was used, the West was able to analyze its capability, limitations and vulnerabilities – and on May 3, it appears the Ukrainians managed to shoot one down, with several others suffering the same fate over the course of of the following days.
West can’t risk exposing his hand
The KILLJOY would have taken years – and billions of dollars – to develop, but much of the value was in its potential.
Nations invest in credible military capability to deter potential aggressors. Secret weapon programs sow doubt in the minds of enemies, even if the actual capability is far below that anticipated.
As a result, the West is very careful to limit the level of combat capability deployed to avoid “exposing your hand” and to limit the risk of donated weapons ending up on the local black market – much like the risk in Ukraine. .
Western combatants generally do not have access to the very latest capability in conflicts such as Afghanistan, to preserve state-of-the-art weaponry for any future war of national survival.
The UK’s Storm Shadow is a very capable missile, but the technology is 25 years old and the UK is planning a mid-life upgrade in the near future.
Consequently, although the British government’s decision to offer Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine offered them a unique long-range strike capability, the UK limited the risk of compromising national capability.
Similarly, the American Patriot air defense system was first fielded in 1986, and although it has been regularly updated, the system deployed in Ukraine is very unlikely to be of the latest generation. .
Russia has claimed to have destroyed a Patriot system defend kyiv, potentially exposing the limits of this powerful air defense system.
However, if the Patriot was indeed damaged in a Russian attack, the damage must have been light as the Patriot appears to be operational again.
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Retaining military capability is not a new concept. During World War II, the allies cracked the Enigma code, which enabled the interception of all German traffic.
However, the allies were very careful to limit the exploitation of Enigma – as if Germany knew it had been compromised, this vital intelligence would be lost to the allies.
Lives were lost maintaining this most sensitive secret, and that same philosophy prevails today.
Technology provides the West with an asymmetric military advantage, which must be protected.
Putin’s folly was to believe his own hype – the “invincible” missile turned out to be an expensive illusion.