Su-24MRs find themselves in the crosshairs of Russian Kh-47M2

Reports indicate that Russian military forces have utilized Kinzhal hypersonic missiles to target Ukrainian Su-24 fighter jets. This response comes on the heels of an unexpected assault on Crimea by Kyiv’s forces, employing UK-supplied Storm Shadow long-range missiles. 

MiG-31K with installed Kinzhal hypersonic missile lands in Kaliningrad
Photo credit: Wikipedia

In a massive show of force on July 26, Russia unleashed a barrage of missiles on Ukraine. The majority, including four of Russia’s hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, were aimed at the Starokostiantyniv airbase in Khmelnytskyi Oblast. This base houses the Su-24M fighters of the Ukrainian Air Force. 

Ukraine’s Air Forces Commander, Mykola Oleshchuk, announced that Ukrainian air defense had successfully neutralized 36 hostile aerial targets. 

The Russian missile attack is thought to have specifically targeted the Su-24M fighter jets. These aircraft serve as the delivery system for the UK-supplied Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles [ALCM], which have been increasingly used in attacks on Russian soil. 

The exact impact of the missile strike on the Starokostiantyniv base, home to the Su-24M fighters, remains unclear. According to Yuriy Ihnat, Spokesperson of the Ukrainian Air Force, the missiles were launched from the Caspian Sea, entering Ukraine from the southeast. 

The missiles’ trajectory took them first toward Kharkiv, then Dnipro, and subsequently to Kirovohrad Oblast. After several changes in direction, the missiles were finally directed toward Starokostiantyniv in Khmelnytskyi Oblast. The Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine, Suspilne, reported that explosions were detected in Khmelnytskyi Oblast. 

Missile debris from the attack landed on private property in Starokostiantyniv. Serhiy Tiurin, chief of the Khmelnytskyi Military Administration, confirmed that no injuries resulted from the missile debris, although a car was damaged. He expressed his gratitude for Ukraine’s air defenses and their successful “fending off the attack.” 

MiG-31BMs get R-74M missile hitting targets in the rear hemisphere
Photo credit: MWM

Tiurin’s remarks suggest that the Kinzhal missiles did not fulfill their intended objective. Reports indicate that Russia’s rocket troops began planning the assault on the Starokostiantyniv airbase as early as 2020. 

This attack follows closely behind an incident where Ukraine breached established boundaries using Storm Shadow long-range missiles to strike Crimea. The missiles reportedly hit a Russian ammunition depot south of an airfield in East Crimea. 

In May 2023, the UK transferred the first batch of the 250-kilometer range Storm Shadow cruise missiles to bolster Kyiv’s forces with long-range strike capability. While Moscow maintains that most of these missiles were intercepted, those that penetrated defenses have caused considerable damage to Russian assets. 

Before the recent Storm Shadow attack on Crimea, Ukraine primarily utilized locally-manufactured air and maritime drones to target Crimea. However, since the initial attack, Ukraine has thrice struck Crimea with Storm Shadow missiles. The Russian Ministry of Defense [RuMoD] has yet to officially acknowledge these attacks. 

Given the lack of 100% air defense protection against the Storm Shadow missiles, military analysts speculate that Russian forces may have opted to target the Su-24 bomber aircraft, the carriers of these missiles, to neutralize Ukraine’s long-range missile firing capability. 

Furthermore, the suggestion that Russia has aimed its cruise missiles at the Ukrainian airfield housing the Su-24M fighter jet is seen as part of a broader strategy. Russian officials and experts have repeatedly stated that Moscow’s forces would destroy Western fighter jets supplied to Ukraine while they are still on the ground.

The ongoing barrage of Russia’s Kinzhal missiles

Russia says it is mass-producing the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missile
Photo by Alexey Kudenko

Reports from the Ukrainian Air Force indicate a relentless onslaught of Kinzhal cruise missiles, unleashed by Russia on the oblasts of Kyiv, Khmelnytskyi, and Kirovohrad. In a subsequent statement, spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat confirmed the downing of these Russian cruise missiles over Kyiv, Kharkiv oblasts, and the city of Dnipro, thanks to Ukraine’s air defense. 

Launched by the MiG-31, the Kinzhal missile is reputed to achieve staggering speeds exceeding Mach 10 and cover distances between 1,500 to 2,000 kilometers, bearing either a conventional or nuclear payload. 

The hypersonic speed of the Kinzhal missile creates a plasma cloud that entraps radio waves in its wake, making its detection via radar systems immensely challenging. In 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled the Kinzhal as a part of Russia’s arsenal of “next-generation” weaponry, touting it as a formidable and superior military asset. 

However, the once-deemed invincible Kinzhal hypersonic missiles have seen their reputation tarnished in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. In May, Ukraine announced a significant victory, successfully intercepting and neutralizing six Russian Kinzhal missiles utilizing the Patriot missile defense system. 

The announcement followed a heavy missile assault from Russia, reportedly involving 18 missiles. Ukraine’s Minister of Defense, Oleksii Reznikov, celebrated this achievement on Twitter, praising the Ukrainian Air Forces for shooting down six Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missiles and 12 other missiles. 

Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the head of Ukraine’s armed forces, further confirmed the successful interception and neutralization of all incoming missiles, including all six Kinzhal missiles fired from MiG-31K aircraft. 

However, Russia paints a different picture. They claim to have destroyed a US-made Patriot defense system in Kyiv using the hypersonic Kinzhal missile during an overnight strike. Ukraine initially denied these claims, but later conceded to minor damage to the system, denying its destruction. 

Even over two months since this incident, Russia persists in its bombardment of Ukraine with the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles.


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