First proof Ukraine using S-200 air defense for ground attack

In mid-July, BulgarianMilitary.com reported that Ukraine had used the S-200 anti-aircraft missile system against ground targets. The information came then from the Russian side, which described Ukrainian attacks on July 16.

Today, October 3, the first video evidence of the use of the S-200 on ground targets appeared on social media. At least that’s what the accounts sharing the video claim. It only shows the launch of the rocket, but clearly shows how the solid propellant boosters are turned on and off.

Solid propellant boosters are essentially rocket engines that burn solid propellants to generate a large amount of thrust. This allowed the missile to quickly gain speed and altitude, allowing it to reach its target more efficiently.

Russia claims

On July 16, an announcement came forward from the Russian Ministry of Defense concerning the interception of two projectiles originating from the Ukrainian S-200 defense system. It remains unclear as to what these missiles were targeting. 

Further unfolding events of the day revealed that Russia also foiled an attempted strike involving three HIMARS missiles and 13 non-identified Ukrainian drones. This incident trailed a week behind a Ukraine-initiated launch of four V-880 missiles, sourced from the same S-200 system, towards the Crimean peninsula and regions in southern and western Russia. Of these, two underwent electronic neutralization while the remaining two were physically apprehended.

First proof Ukraine using S-200 air defense for ground attack
Video screenshot

The S-200 was good, but it got old

Born 60 years ago in the flourishing era of the Soviet Union, the S-200 surface-to-air missile systems stand as a testament to the ingenious inventiveness of the time. Their creation was spearheaded by the Almaz design bureau, based in the historic city of St. Petersburg. After a successful launch in 1967, the novel system was integrated into the Soviet Army’s inventory and has since seen several upgrade cycles. 

An eager pursuit took place to push the range limits of these missile systems. Following the exhaustive efforts of Russian engineers, the final variant of the S-200 possessed a formidable reach of 300 km. This milestone placed it amongst the most far-reaching air defense systems known to mankind during that period. 

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

The strategic visions driving the design and deployment of the S-200 were aimed squarely at the perceived threats of American strategic bombers, notorious for their nuclear weapons-carrying capabilities. Challenges were encountered when attempting to target other aircraft, particularly those that operated less visibly and at low altitudes, proving elusive to this missile system. 

Soon, the relentless march of technological advancements ushered in a new generation of air defense systems, including the S-300 and S-400. Despite the S-200 system’s impressive range and altitude abilities, it was deemed outdated. This was largely due to its non-mobile design, as it was mounted on a stationary platform that necessitated a rail-based platform for transportation. 

Take into account the 5B28 anti-aircraft missile provisioned for the S-200 – a colossal entity running on toxic liquid fuel, about 11 meters in length and weighing between 7 and 8 tons – it presents a distinctly imposing aspect of this air defense system.

S-200 – the backbone of Ukrainian air defense

russian / soviet S-200 missile system
Photo credit: Twitter

Historically, Ukraine’s anti-aircraft defense immensely relied on the S-200s. These potent assets, strategically arrayed throughout the country, were integral to the Ukrainian Air Defense Forces. Each division typically commanded a robust 6-launcher battery, making a total of 5 or 6 S-200 divisions, depending on the source you consult. 

Nevertheless, big changes began sweeping through the defense landscape in 2013, during the tenure of the then President Yanukovych, who would later find himself in self-exile. The S-200s were declared obsolete, both morally and physically, leading to their removal from active service. Consequently, the launchers were reduced to scrap while the missiles were relegated to storage units. Subsequently, on the eve of Russia’s audacious annexation of Crimea, Ukraine found itself in a perilous situation, stripped of its long-range air defense capabilities.

After the annexation of Crimea

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

First Deputy Defense Minister Ivan Rusnak made a public declaration back in 2018 that Ukraine was reinstating the S-200 to service. Reserve General Romanenko, who formerly held the position of Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, noted that Ukraine possesses a relatively small inventory of these missiles, amounting to several hundred. Interestingly, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, both allies of Ukraine, are known to have significant stockpiles of the S-200. 

An intriguing fact is that Ukraine possessed an alternation of the S-200, which was officially declared to have a range of 250-300 kilometers against airborne targets. There is speculation that its range could extend to 500-600 kilometers when pitted against terrestrial targets.

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