Missile that once downed an Israeli F-16I, attacked Russia today

On June 28, Ukraine sent two modified S-200 anti-aircraft missiles toward southwestern Russia. One landed and detonated in Taganrog, a city close to the Russia-Ukraine border. The Russian Ministry of Defense accused Kyiv of carrying out a “terrorist attack” on residential infrastructure in Taganrog using a missile. The missile debris caused damage to several structures in the city after the interception. 

The governor of the Rostov region, Vasily Golubev, said the explosion happened near the Taganrog Art Museum and caused significant damage. A neighboring building also suffered damage. Golubev added that a second missile was intercepted in the Azov region, but details about this are not yet public. 

After the explosion, images, and videos shared on social media showed the extent of the damage. Nine people were taken to hospital with minor to moderate injuries. A CCTV video showed the moment the missile impacted a city block, damaging a cafe and an apartment building. This is reportedly the first attack on Taganrog since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A similar attack

As a creative solution to the ongoing missile scarcity, the Ukrainian Military has cleverly repurposed Soviet S-200 surface-to-air missiles. These once air defense weapons are now utilized as ground-to-ground missiles, aiming at Russian targets. 

This isn’t the first time Ukraine has repurposed the S-200 for ground attacks in the current conflict. A case in point occurred in early July when four B-880s were deployed by the Ukrainians in an assault on the Crimean peninsula. 

The scope of these targets is vast, spreading from the Crimean Peninsula to the Rostov and Kaluga regions in Russia’s southern and western sectors. The assault incorporated four V-880 missiles. According to Russia’s Air Force General Staff leader, Viktor Afzalov, two were neutralized by electronic warfare, while the remaining two were physically intercepted. 

Despite the onslaught, the Russian Defence Ministry maintained that there were no casualties or destruction. Nevertheless, Gerasimov, a high-ranking official, directed the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces to locate storage facilities, training sites, and launch positions of Ukrainian S-200 systems and their counterparts.

The downed F-16 in 2018

Soviet-made S-200 is a long-range, medium-to-high altitude surface-to-air missile system developed by the Soviet Union. It has been in service since the late 1960s and has been used by many countries around the world. On February 10, 2018, an Israeli F-16I Sufa fighter was shot down by a Syrian S-200 missile over Syrian airspace. The incident occurred during a retaliatory strike by Israel against Iranian targets in Syria.

Israeli F-16I Sufa fighter jet
Photo credit: IAF

The S-200 missile system is known for its long-range and high-altitude capabilities, and it is capable of engaging targets at a distance of up to 300 km and at an altitude of up to 35 km. The exact details of how the S-200 missile was able to shoot down the Israeli F-16I Sufa fighter are not clear. However, it is believed that the missile was able to track and target the aircraft using its radar system, and then guide itself to intercept the aircraft.

Despite being an older missile system, the S-200 has proven to be effective in shooting down aircraft. In addition to the Israeli F-16I Sufa fighter, the S-200 has been used to shoot down other aircraft in conflicts around the world.

Ukraine’s S-200

Though not previously deployed in air-to-air combat against Russian forces, Ukraine’s restored S-200s possess an impressive reach that surpasses other systems currently in use, including the recently acquired Patriot missile batteries from the United States. 

Tragically, the most notable prior use of Ukrainian S-200s was the unintentional downing of Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 from Tel Aviv in October 2001, an event that resulted in the loss of all passengers. Given that Ukraine did not keep any retired S-200s in reserve, it is plausible that these systems were sourced from former Warsaw Pact states, with Poland being a potential supplier. 

The S-200 in ballistic launch

The concept of launching missiles from the S-200 system in a ballistic manner is not a new one. This tactic was demonstrated by North Korea on November 2, 2022, when a missile was launched, landing 60km off the South Korean coast in what was seen as a show of power. 

Although South Korea made efforts to recover the missile, it yielded no significant intelligence as it was simply an outdated Soviet-built air defense asset. This very fact made the S-200 an ideal choice for the launch. In contrast to Ukraine, North Korea has since replaced the S-200 system with indigenous mobile long-range assets like the Pyongae-5. 

Current S-200 operators

Other nations presently operating the S-200 system include Poland, which has plans to replace the system with American Patriots, and Iran, which has extensively modified the systems for mobile launcher deployment and integration with newer Russian and local air defense assets. Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan continue to operate the systems, having inherited them from the USSR. Syria, the first export client of the S-200, also continues to rely on the system.

A kinetic perspective over V-880

The S-400 Triumf, a Russian anti-missile system, holds the capability to counteract the launch of a V-880 ballistic missile. This long-range air defense missile system can engage with targets situated up to 400 km away and at altitudes reaching 30 km. Not only can the S-400 detect and track ballistic missiles, but it can also intercept them using its own missile arsenal. Its advanced technology has earned it a high rank among global anti-missile systems. 

Another potential contender in counteracting a V-880 ballistic missile launch is the A-135, another Russian creation. This missile defense system, based in Moscow, was designed specifically to shield the city from ballistic missile threats. Its method of interception involves the use of nuclear-tipped missiles. However, the A-135’s capability to intercept a V-880 missile remains uncertain due to its relative novelty in the missile system realm. 

Soviet S-200s delivered to Ukraine are adapted for ballistic fire
Photo credit: Reddit

The Buk-M3, a medium-range air defense missile system, is yet another Russian invention that may have the potential to counter a V-880 ballistic missile launch. It can engage targets up to 70 km away and at altitudes of up to 25 km. The Buk-M3 is engineered to intercept a myriad of targets, including but not limited to aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. Nevertheless, the uncertainty of the Buk-M3’s ability to test against a V-880 missile remains. 


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