MAY 12, 2023
Just as we predicted in December, Russia apparently used the powerful emissions from at least one of the two donated MIM-104 Patriot missile systems to target and launch an attack against it by a Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile last week.
“U.S. officials believe the Russians picked up on signals that are emitted from the Patriot, allowing them to target the system” with a ballistic missile that can reach hypersonic speeds, CNN reported Friday afternoon. “The Ukrainian air defenders fired multiple missiles from the Patriot at different angles to intercept the Russian missile, demonstrating how quickly they have become adept at using the powerful system, one official said.”
As we reported on May 6, Ukrainian Air Force officials finally acknowledged that a Patriot interceptor downed a Russian Kh-47 Kinzhal air-launched ‘hypersonic’ ballistic missile over Kyiv the previous day. Ukrainian officials had previously denied that a Patriot was involved in taking down the Kinzhal. The acknowledgment came after Ukrainian media and OSINT trackers posted images of missile wreckage that clearly looked like a Kinzhal, which you can see below.
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, on May 9 also confirmed that a Patriot interceptor downed the Kinzhal.
Back in December, The War Zone predicted that Patriot batteries would immediately become top targets for Russian standoff weapons, especially harder to intercept ones like Kinzhal, which is meant to only be spent on high-priority, and often highly defended, targets.
The Patriots emissions and footprint would be very hard to conceal from detection. David Shank, a retired Army colonel and former commandant of the Army Air Defense Artillery School at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, agreed with this assertion:
“One Patriot battery with a full complement of launchers (six or more) requires 50 to 60 soldiers to emplace and then 25 to 30 soldiers to operate and maintain,” David Shank, a retired Army colonel and former commandant of the Army Air Defense Artillery School at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, told The War Zone Wednesday afternoon. “A Patriot battery uses approximately a square kilometer of land space so it’s susceptible to Russian ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance]. The radar when radiating emits a large signal and will ultimately be seen by Russian signal intelligence capabilities.”
A typical Patriot battery includes an AN/MPQ-53 or more capable AN/MPQ-65 phased array radar, which would be the most likely target of a Russian strike.
On Friday, Shank told us he was “not surprised” to hear that the Patriot system was targeted and that Ukraine needs a good “emissions control plan coupled with decoys” to help mitigate such attacks.
“If you radiate constantly or for example at 3 p.m. you will die,” he told us. “It’s a big radar and puts off a big signal. What’s needed are decoys that replicate that same signal.”
“It’s difficult with only two Patriot batteries in country, both of which I assume are in Kyiv,” he added. “Alternating radiate times (meaning turning the radar on / off) is a start. Also, radiating when an attack is expected (intelligence is key).”
In addition, Shank said it is important to procure decoys; “several to keep the Russians guessing on exact location. Moving these decoys and the two batteries occasionally will also help. Last and very important beyond the emission control plan is passive air defense measures…..bunkers, camouflage, again decoys, survivability measures, etc.”
It is unknown exactly how Ukraine has defended its Patriot systems, one donated by the U.S., another by a combination of German and Dutch components.
We’ve reached out to the Ukrainian Air Force for details and confirmation about whether the system was specifically targeted and will update this story with any details.
“We cannot confirm any potential targeting of the Patriot battery at this time and would encourage you to ask the Ukrainian Army,” a Pentagon spokesman told us Friday.
Given the additional protection the Patriots provide over Ukraine’s array of largely Soviet-era air defenses, this won’t likely be the last time Russia targets the system. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would be a target after word began to trickle out that the Biden administration would likely provide Ukraine with a Patriot.
Before we dive into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.
“The Ukrainian air defenders fired multiple missiles from the Patriot at different angles to intercept the Russian missile, demonstrating how quickly they have become adept at using the powerful system, one official said.”
This is yet another example where the Ukrainians are showing a high-level of competence in the use of new weapon systems, even complex ones like the Patriot! Shooting down a Kinzhal certainly was demonstration enough. It would be bad news indeed, if they were to have a poor showing in their use, and a waste of valuable assets.
“On Friday, Shank told us he was “not surprised” to hear that the Patriot system was targeted and that Ukraine needs a good “emissions control plan coupled with decoys” to help mitigate such attacks.”
I’m confident that the AFU is doing all it can to help protect these valuable systems from mafia attack. This is where F-16s could be of high value. With their long-range standoff capabilities, they could safely neutralize mafia anti-radiation efforts.
Would be difficult to minimize the foot print these have, but the decoys and stand off radar systems will help confuse the enemy.