Foiled smuggling of 12 missile launch rails from Russia to Ukraine

Russian media recently revealed how federal customs services in Russia foiled an attempt to smuggle missile launchers from Russia to Ukraine. According to Vzglyad, citing a Federal Customs Service [FCS] press release, “Russian customs officers intercepted an attempt to export missile holders for military aircraft to Ukraine.” 

Foiled smuggling of 12 missile launch rails from Russia to Ukraine
Photo credit: Russian FCS

The FCS shared with TASS that, “Customs officials determined that the smuggling of military equipment was orchestrated by two Russian citizens and two Georgian citizens under the guidance of foreign coordinators.” The report detailed how a couple from Moscow had assembled and repainted the missile holders in a garage. Subsequently, these “foreign coordinators” began organizing the transport of the equipment to Georgia. 

Ultimately, customs officials seized 12 devices—half of them found in a van in Goren Lars and the rest in a Moscow workshop. Criminal charges have been filed against the Muscovites and the van driver, who now faces up to 12 years in prison for smuggling military equipment.

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Photo credit: Twitter

The missile launch rails

When it comes to fighter jets, missile holders, also known as missile launch rails, are very important. These parts are usually attached to the wings or body of the jet. Their main job? Securely hold and support missiles until they are launched. These holders are crucial for the safe and effective use of the jet’s weapons. 

Missile beam holders keep missiles securely attached to aircraft during flight, even during high-speed maneuvers, takeoffs, and landings. They usually have systems to guide the missile away from the aircraft when launching, either by directing it in a straight line or giving it a push before its motor starts. 

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Photo credit: Rosoboronexport

These holders usually come with connectors that provide electrical power and data links to the missile. This is essential for pre-launch checks, transferring targeting data, and arming the missile. Modern missile launch rails are versatile and can work with various missile types. This flexibility gives more loadout options for the aircraft. The design can also be adjusted to fit different missile sizes and types. 

Missile beam holders have another important job: reducing drag and other negative effects on an aircraft’s aerodynamics. They’re designed to keep the jet’s performance stable even when carrying missiles. To ensure safety, these holders feature mechanical locks, safing pins, and electronic interlocks to prevent accidental release or detonation of missiles.

Types of missile launch rails

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Photo credit: Medium

Russian media have not commented on which missile systems were supposedly used in smuggling operations from Russia to Ukraine. Ukraine’s military flies Soviet-era Su-27 and MiG-29 fighter jets, both known for their wide range of missile launch abilities that make them effective in combat. 

The Su-27 uses the APU-470 missile launch rail to carry and launch R-27 [AA-10 ‘Alamo’] medium-range air-to-air missiles. Depending on the type, these missiles use either radar homing or infrared homing, allowing them to engage enemy planes at different distances. 

The MiG-29 uses the APU-470 rail to launch R-27 missiles. It also has the P-72-1D rail for launching R-73 [AA-11 ‘Archer’] short-range air-to-air missiles. The R-73 is known for its high agility and infrared tracking, making it great for close aerial combat. 

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Photo credit: Wikimedia

Both the Su-27 and MiG-29 can be equipped with the AKU-58 rail, which can carry Kh-29 [AS-14 ‘Kedge’] air-to-ground missiles. These missiles are designed to hit reinforced structures and armored vehicles, boosting the aircraft’s ground attack power.


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