US-supplied to Ukraine ATACMS M39 Block I destroyed a Russian S-400

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A photo thought to illustrate the aftermath of an attack upon the Russian Dzhankoi air base in Crimea, a territory currently under dispute, is gaining traction on various social platforms. Confirmations of an assault were cited earlier today by BulgarianMilitary.com, pulling from both Russian and Ukrainian sources.  

Photo credit: Telegram

The legitimacy of the photo, which is alleged to depict the aftermath of today’s strike, remains to be verified. If correctly associated, possible damage to a  Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system could be indicated. So far, no official updates on possible harm have been disclosed. 

On examining the image, one can visibly notice military vehicles, including trucks and lighter transports, that appear to have been reduced to cinders. Prominently seen amongst the wreckage are four launchers of the anti-aircraft system. Despite the patent destruction of the system’s carrier vehicle, it’s worth considering that the photo’s perspective might be somewhat deceiving.

Photo credit: CSIS / Twitter

Earlier today

Our previous report highlighted that the extent of damage and possible Russian casualties at Dzhankoi Air Base remains unclear. However, it is important to note that this base serves as a significant hub for numerous vital Russian weapon systems. Currently, it houses four Su-25 attack fighters, an S-400 Triumph air defense system, and a pair of Ka-52 Alligator helicopters. In addition to these, about 10 Mi-8 helicopters consider the base as their home. This base also functions as a storehouse for various types of ammunition and missiles. 

Regarding the weapons that might have been utilized in this attack, Ukrainian reports hypothesize the use of Kamikaze drones or ATACMS cluster missiles. Reliable sources indicate that the attack could have been executed from a distance of approximately 145 km. This range is comfortably within the reach of ATACMS, which has a range of 165 km.

Photo credit: Medium

S-400 vs ATACMS

On paper, it would appear the prowess of the S-400 system gives it a theoretical edge in intercepting the ATACMS M39 Block I. With its expansive range and superior tracking capabilities, the S-400 could likely detect and engage the missile effectively. It’s worth noting that the S-400’s peak interception velocity tops 4.8 kilometers per second, decidedly outpacing the ATACMS’s maximum speed. 

However, intercepting the ATACMS is not as easy as it seems. For starters, as a highly agile and fast missile, the ATACMS could pose a genuine challenge to accurately track and engage. Moreover, the ATACMS’s relatively short lifespan could limit the opportunity for the S-400 to detect and intercept it. 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Lastly, the S-400’s success rate against the ATACMS will not entirely depend on its technical prowess. The strategies and combat tactics utilized by both sides will significantly influence the outcome. Tactics such as electronic warfare or the deployment of decoy missiles could potentially throw the S-400 off its tracking game. Thus, while on the drawing board, the S-400 stands a chance at intercepting the ATACMS, it’s certainly not a guaranteed success.

S-400 as a critical asset

The S-400 Triumf, an essential component of Russia’s air defense systems, is globally recognized as one of the most sophisticated missile systems. Its functionalities extend to addressing a variety of threats, ranging from aircraft and drones to ballistic and even cruise missiles. 

Photo credit: MWM

This remarkable system is equipped with a cutting-edge radar system, capable of monitoring up to 300 targets concurrently up to a distance of 600 kilometers. Such a staggering capacity is beneficial for early threat detection and interception, significantly boosting the security of Russian airspace. Further fortifying its defensive capabilities, the S-400 also possesses the ability to engage targets up to 400 kilometers away, broadening its defensive range substantially. 

What amplifies the S-400’s tactical value is its rapid mobilization capacity. This system can be strategically relocated to various locations with agility, ensuring an efficient response to sudden or unpredictable threats. Its nimble mobility also complicates adversaries’ attempts to target the system. 

An additional attribute that places the S-400 in a unique sphere is its capacity to collaborate with other defense systems. Working in harmony with diverse air defense assets creates a multi-layered defense structure. This enhances the overall robustness of Russia’s air defense network. 

Photo credit: Russian MoD

However, the S-400 isn’t solely about its technical proficiencies on the battlefield. It also functions as a potent deterrent. The established reputation and proven effectiveness of the S-400 system discourage potential adversaries from initiating aggressive actions in the area, playing a crucial role in maintaining regional stability.

S-400 for the first time

Reports from Russia suggest that the S-400 air defense system was put into use almost immediately following the country’s incursion into Ukraine. As of February 25, there are numerous accounts of Ukrainian fighter jets being shot down near Kyiv. A large number of sources corroborate the claim that a Ukrainian Su-27 was taken down by a missile from an air defense system. 

Photo: Wallpaper HQ

Russian media now alleges that this fighter jet had an altercation with an S-400 missile system strategically placed in Belarus. BulgarianMilitary.com underscored that Moscow, even before the Russian troops stormed into Ukraine, had strategically positioned at least two S-400 batteries on Belarusian territory. If we trust the validity of the intelligence from Russian sources, then this encounter with the Ukrainian Su-27 represents the maiden deployment of the Russian SAM S-400 system in battle. 

Reports claim that the missile hit the Su-27 approximately 150 km away from the launch point of the S-400, barely halfway to the air system’s maximum range of 400 km, following official specifications.

2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine

Photo by Evgeny Epanchintsev

On February 21, 2022, Russia stated that its border facility was attacked by Ukrainian forces, resulting in the deaths of five Ukrainian fighters. However, Ukraine quickly dismissed these allegations, labeling them as ‘false flags’.

In a notable move on the same day, Russia announced it officially recognized the self-proclaimed areas of DPR and LPR. Interestingly, according to Russian President Putin, this recognition covered all the Ukrainian regions. Following this declaration, Putin sent a battalion of Russia’s military forces, tanks included, into these areas.

Fast forward to February 24, 2022, global headlines were dominated by a significant incident. Putin commanded a forceful military assault on Ukraine. Led by Russia’s impressive Armed Forces positioned at the Ukrainian border, this assault wasn’t spontaneous but a premeditated action. Despite the circumstances resembling a war, the Russian government refrains from using this term. They’d rather refer to it as a “special military operation”.

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