An S-300PS surface-to-air missile system belonging to Ukraine’s 201st Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade. Photo courtesy of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military has deployed an anti-aircraft missile unit to guard its southern territory against a Russian air attack from Crimea.
Armed with upgraded, Soviet-era S-300PS surface-to-air missiles, the recently repositioned battalion belongs to the Ukrainian air force’s 201st Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade. The unit’s missiles can reportedly strike targets as far away as 46 miles and up to an altitude of some 88,500 feet, according to a Ukrainian military report.
“The personnel and armament of the unit are ready to perform their combat mission,” said Col. Andriy Kopych, commander of the 201st Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, the Ukrainian military reported in a release. “If the enemy invades the airspace of Ukraine, our rockets will cause him significant losses and force him to abandon aggressive plans.”
Completed on Jan. 6, the anti-aircraft battalion’s southbound repositioning is intended to “cover cities and important infrastructure of the country from an air attack by the enemy from the south, in particular from the territory of the temporarily occupied Crimea,” the Ukrainian military reported in an online post.
In 2014, Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and launched an unconventional invasion of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. After nearly eight years, the war in the Donbas is ongoing along a static, entrenched front line.
The deployed S-300 battalion, which recently returned from a deployment to the Donbas war zone, has “fully restored its combat capability and has entered combat duty in the country’s air defense system,” Kopych said, according to the Ukrainian military release.
A Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s borders has spurred concerns about a possible winter offensive.
There are more than 100,000 Russian troops positioned on Ukraine’s frontiers, including in Crimea, reportedly armed with tanks, artillery, multiple-launch rocket systems, and attack helicopters. Russia has also reportedly mobilized reserves, which could conceivably be used to hold conquered terrain should Moscow opt for a full-scale land invasion of Ukraine in the coming weeks or months.
Yet, many experts say that the Kremlin may opt for a campaign of airstrikes and precision-guided missile attacks to inflict mass casualties on Ukraine’s armed forces, as well as political nodes and key infrastructure sites across the country, to spur a political capitulation — or a change in leadership — in Kyiv.
“My biggest concern is that there is too much focus on land power right now — because it is what can be observed — and not enough focus on the likelihood that air and missile strikes would be used. Those preparations are harder to observe,” Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp., told Coffee or Die Magazine in an earlier interview.
The recently repositioned S-300 battalion underscores Ukraine’s measured military preparations for a possible Russian blitz — in particular, in anticipation of airstrikes and missile attacks. Although the country has not yet mobilized its first pool of reservists, Ukraine’s nationwide air defense network is currently on heightened guard against a potential Russian air-power offensive this winter.
Ukrainian defense officials announced Dec. 13 that air defenses would be increased at key locations across the country, including “more than 1,000 troops and hundreds of units of military equipment, covering bridges, hydroelectric power plants, nuclear power plants, and other critical infrastructure.”
Ukraine’s anti-aircraft arsenal mostly comprises Soviet-era hardware that has been upgraded over the intervening decades.
The Ukrainian air force possesses roughly 100 S-300 launchers, 72 Buk-M1 systems, and a smaller number of S-125 systems. The roughly 100 anti-aircraft missile launchers in the Ukrainian army include Osa-AKMs, S-300s, Strela-10s, Tor-M1s, and Tunguskas. The Ukrainian army also wields anti-aircraft guns, as well as man-portable air-defense systems, weapons commonly known as MANPADs.