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Lessons of Ukraine War IV – Employment of Long Range Missiles

The Iran Iraq War of the 1980’s was the first, “missile,” war in modern times wherein both sides used an abundance of ballistic missiles.

It was the ubiquitous SCUD which was employed to some effect, however it should be remembered that this did not change the balance in the War.

The employment of SCUDs by Iraq however led the United States to deploy massive SCUD hunting teams during the Gulf War 1991.

The advent of the cruise missile has led the use of both ballistic and cruise missiles by both sides in the Ukraine War.

While SCUDs were mainly land based, a variety of missiles have been employed mainly by the Russian Armed Forces with varied targeting purpose and launched from multiple platforms – land, sea, submarine and air.

As per Ukrainian sources, the Russians have employed some 1300 missiles in the past two months which is said to be worth $ 15 Billion.

On the other hand Ukraine too has used limited number of missiles mainly cruise such as the Neptune.

To derive lessons from the employment of missiles by both sides, objective of usage and outcome needs to be considered and a short review is as given below.

Pin Point Destruction

Using a missiles for pin point destruction - counter force or counter value has been the most effective, though only a small number seem to have been used in this role.

Ukraine’s use of the Neptune cruise missile has been much talked about. This is said to have brought down the Moskva the command ship of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Though Russia has claimed that the Moskva sank because of fires in the ammunition bay.

Whatever be the reason for sinking of the Moskva vulnerability of such large surface platforms which do not have adequate air and missile defence cover may have been an important lesson learnt.

Russians also employed missiles to target weapons and personnel provided by the West to Ukraine.

Thus, some of the missile strikes that have been employed Lyiv in Western Ukraine regarded as the entry point of weapons and fighters provided by the West to that country have this purpose. These too have been effective.

General Destruction.

Russia is said to have employed a large number of missiles for general destruction of perceived targets in Ukraine many of which were in the cities and towns.

Russia has claimed that these were aimed at Ukrainian military systems which were sheltered deliberately in civilian areas.

The operational impact of these missile strikes has been limited but these have destroyed large quantum of civilian infrastructure including roads, railways, city blocks and housing.

Thus, whether this was optimal employment of highly expensive missiles remains to be seen.


Russia also employed some missiles with a view to demonstrate capability. One salient example is the Russian hyper sonic missile – Kinzhal or Dagger – “fast and furious”.

Kinzhal is an air launched version of the Iskander and can be maneouvred towards the target and also has the capability to evade air and missile defences. To prove the accuracy Russia employed the missile to target an ammunition dump.

Kinzhal was employed from a MiG 31 fighter aircraft which have been modified though how many such platforms Russia has is not clear.

Russia is also said to have carried out a test of a nuclear capable missile RS 28 Sarmat also called as, “Satan 2.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that this class of weapon was not available with any other country in the World and will have a major deterrent effect on countries seeking to threaten Russia in the future.

Despite the rhetoric the test was pre-notified to the United States which has tracked the same and is a replacement for the aging Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)s in the Russian armoury.

Conduct of such tests during ongoing operations are a part of the overall deterrence build up.

Launch Platforms

Missiles have been launched by Russia from ground based launchers, aircraft as well as surface and submarines.

The air launched missile is said to be the stand-off Raduga Kh-101 (RS-AS-23A Kodiak), in long-range attacks against targets in Ukraine.

Kh 101 missile has a range of approximately 3500 kms and has been launched probably from y the Tu 160 or Tu 95 MS well inside the Russian border to evade Ukrainian air defence sytems.

Russia is also reported to have used a conventional diesel based submarine to launch the Kalibr cruise missiles

Russia has accused Ukraine of employing Tochka-U ballistic missiles to target civilian areas in Kherson in the South which is under Russian control for some time.

Missile Defence

The necessity for large platforms at sea to be protected by effective missile defences has been highlighted with the sinking of the Moskva.

Navies as the Indian Navy which have the ambition of floating three aircraft carriers need to devote much attention to effective air and missile defence for the large floating decks with 40,000 tonnes of steel.

Similarly other high value targets need to be also protected from air and missile attacks in the future. Thus, there will be a premium on missile defence of such assets.

Technical Issues

The United States and Ukraine defence officials have claimed that Russian missiles were highly inaccurate and in some cases may have been used as general destruction weapons rather than precision in which role these are most effective.

However this lesson may not be generalized as Russia may have kept the best and the latest versions using the dated ones earlier.

Concluding Lesson

Clearly as in the Iran Iraq War in 1980’s missiles did not prove to be the decisive factor though the enormous influence these had cannot be understated.

So far, the impact of missiles in the Ukraine War may also not have been decisive even though far greater numbers and variety of these have been employed by Russia in particular.

Never the less the imperative to have a large and varied armoury of such missile systems – ballistic and cruise – land, air, sea and surface launched is emphasized.

How these can be used more effectively to achieve war objectives needs serious deliberations as the cost factor will assume importance for countries as India.

The overall effect in terms of decapacitation of large assets such as the Moskva and on national morale cannot be understated.

But just like air power, frequently those targeted by missiles as the Ukrainian people at large in this War will be more determined in their resolve to resist the aggressors.


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