MiG-31s cripple Ukrainian production of 155mm and 152mm shells

On December 13, the Russian Air Force launched a significant ballistic missile attack on key Ukrainian military targets. These included facilities making 155mm and 152mm artillery rounds, and drone workshops. 

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

Additional targets included gunpowder factories and sites manufacturing 125mm tank rounds. The Russian Defense Ministry declared all strikes were successful. 

The issue for Ukraine’s Western allies is that most of Ukraine’s artillery and armor still use old Soviet ammunition sizes. Consequently, they find it challenging to source 155mm, 152mm, and 125mm ammunition because they’re not typically produced by Western states.

Crippling scarcity

There is a high chance that neutralizing the defense industrial targets significantly worsens the already severe ammunition shortages experienced by Ukraine’s Army. This shortage is manifesting itself across various units, including their elite mechanized brigades and artillery. 

The Russian Armed Forces’ potential for launching ballistic missile attacks on Ukrainian objectives has seen considerable growth. This is primarily due to the increased production of armaments like the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched missile and the 9K720 – a surface-to-surface missile that the Iskander-M system utilizes – their quantities have multiplied from what they were before the war. 

Kinzhal hypersonic missile was used in Ukraine, Russia says
Photo credit: YouTube

According to reports from the White House, there’s evidence of North Korean ballistic missiles supplementing these supplies. Of these, the Korean KN-23B stands out as the most potent operational tactical ballistic missile class across Europe to date.

Drones and cruise missiles

The attack that took place on the 13th of December was reinforced by both drone and cruise missile strikes, with Russia escalating its use of the Iranian Shahed-136 drones, especially since the end of 2022. Beginning in 2023, these drones began to be manufactured in Russia under license as the Geran-2. 

Ukrainian news outlets have mentioned that the strike deployed around 40 missiles, hitting targets in the regions of Dnepr and Sumsky. The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal is generally used to engage high-priority targets—particularly positions across Ukraine’s far West—due to its significantly longer range than other Russian tactical ballistic missiles. 

Russia put a GLONASS navigation module in Iranian Shahed-129
Photo credit: Twitter

Provided with tremendous kinetic and gravitational potential energy by MiG-31K fighters—which are the fastest and highest-flying manned combat jets globally—the Kinzhal can reach targets up to 2000km from its launch site.

Suppressed semi-ballistic trajectory

With the capability to maintain speeds exceeding Mach 2, the MiG-31 holds the record for the fastest cruising speed among global fighter planes. It can function effectively in near space, showcasing its high-performance flight features and impressive ability to carry a substantial amount of weapons. This makes MiG-31s the optimum vehicle for deploying Kinzhal missiles. 

North Korea's KN-23 ballistic missile flew 460 km, hitting Kharkiv
Photo credit: Military-Today.com

Analogous to the Korean KN-23B and the Iskander-M, which Kinzhal’s design is modeled upon, it uses a depressed semi-ballistic trajectory. With its high terminal speed and its ability to maneuver consistently throughout its flight, the Kinzhal is crafted to be elusive. 

All these elements together contribute to its incredibly high difficulty to intercept. Echoing the prevalent view on the missile class in March 2022 following its debut in combat, U.S. President Joe Biden declared the Kinzhal to be virtually “impossible to stop.”

Ukraine claims

Despite Ukrainian claims that American Patriot missile systems have successfully intercepted a significant number of missiles, these assertions have been met with skepticism by experts due to the shortcomings of the Patriot missiles and the superior technology present in the Kinzhal missiles. 

Historically, Patriot missile systems have often failed to effectively counter even basic ballistic missile attacks. This fact is evident in their performance during the Gulf War and the 2017 Yemeni missile strike on Saudi Arabia. Initially, it was widely believed that Patriot missiles had effectively neutralized substantial attacks during these incidents. However, subsequent investigations revealed utter system failure, even though the missile attacks these systems faced were not notably advanced.

Someday we will know the truth

The likelihood of new revelations emerging from Ukraine about Patriot missile interceptions of Kinzhal missiles is high. This comes after the narrative has served its purpose of boosting morale within Ukraine and garnering support from the broader Western community. 

Ukrainian news outlets have extensively covered the significant victories in their aerial warfare. Most notably, the story of the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ — a MiG-29 pilot credited with downing numerous advanced Russian fighter planes. 

Despite the grave improbability of this story, it gained extensive traction in Western circles, only for it to be acknowledged later that it was a fabricated narrative intended to bolster morale and lacked any real grounding.


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