Ukraine Is Lobbing Eight-Ton Air-Defense Missiles At Russian Cities

While the Ukrainian government continues pleading with allied governments for longer-range weapons, the Ukrainian air force has taken matters into its own hands.

Sometime before this month, the air force pulled obsolete S-200 surface-to-air missile systems out of long-term storage, apparently replaced the command-guidance units in their V-860/880 missiles with GPS seekers—thus converting them into surface-to-surface missiles—and began firing them at targets inside Russia.

The Friday S-200 strike targeted Taganrog, a city on Russia’s Black Sea coast 20 miles from the border with Ukraine, and a hundred miles from the front line. A driver’s dashboard camera captured the eight-ton missile in the instant before it smashed into a city block, reportedly damaging a cafe and an apartment building and wounding a dozen people.

The S-200 strike in Taganrog comes 19 days after the first confirmed strike by the same missile type. That attack damaged an industrial site in Bryansk, in Russia around 110 miles from the Ukrainian border.

Donations of purpose-made deep-strike weapons by Ukraine’s allies tend to come with provisos—most commonly: don’t use them on targets inside Russia.

Before the United Kingdom provided Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles this spring, British defense minister Ben Wallace sought assurances from his Ukrainian counterparts that the Ukrainians only would use the stealthy munitions against Russian targets in occupied Ukraine—a pledge the Ukrainians apparently have honored since launching their first Storm Shadow strike back in May.

The Ukrainians have agreed to no such limitations on their homemade deep-strike weapons. Russian rocket strikes on Ukrainian cities are a near-daily occurrence. Retaliatory strikes—Ukrainian rockets smashing Russian cities—could become more common as the Ukrainians improvise more long-range weapons. Not just rockets, but also drones.

Ukraine’s substantial stocks of 1960s-vintage V-860/880 missiles begged for reuse. As a surface-to-air weapon, the bulky S-200 is out of date. Ukraine before the current war converted its air-defenses to newer, nimbler S-300 systems; now it’s replacing the S-300s with Western-made SAMs that are even lighter.

But the same bulk that makes the 30-foot V-860/880 missile an air-defense dinosaur also makes it a useful ground-strike weapon.

Its 500-pound warhead accounts for just a fraction of its destructive potential. Any fuel still in its tanks at the moment of impact would add an incendiary effect to its blast effect. Check out the fireball and shockwave from the Friday attack.

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