Russian 5,000-ton battleship sunk, Why Russia failed to intercept an outdated ballistic missile

Ukraine’s navy said Thursday it destroyed a large Russian landing ship in the southern port of Berdyansk, which has been occupied by Russia for weeks. Russia has been using the port, on the Sea of Azoz about 50 miles east of besieged Mariupol, to deliver military and other supplies to its invasion force.

On March 23, it was reported that, Ukrainian army used the Tochka-U short-range ballistic missile to attack the landing fleet of the Russian Black Sea Fleet at Berdyansk Port, and destroyed a 5,000-ton Alligator-class landing ship of the Russian Navy. After the incident, many well-known media also forwarded the news, which confirmed the authenticity of the rumors circulating on the Internet. In fact, since February 26, the Ukrainian army has repeatedly used the “Tochka-U” to attack Russian military and non-military targets.

However, from the current point of view, the accuracy of “Tochka-U” itself is not high, and the Russian army has also deployed a large number of S-300 and S-400 long-range air defense systems on various fronts, successfully intercepting many “Tochka -U”. However, in addition to the damage caused by a small number of “Tochka-U” that failed to intercept by Russia, many “Tochka-U” that were successfully intercepted still caused serious collateral damage after their debris fell to the ground, which attracted the attention of many experts.

Ukrainian Armed Forces Tochka-U Ballistic missile
Ukrainian Armed Forces Tochka-U Ballistic missile

Judging from the news that the Russian landing ship was hit by the Ukrainian ballistic missile, there are obvious differences in the situation announced by the two sides in the current exchange of fire. The Ukrainian army stated that some of the “Tochla-U” it launched were intercepted by the Russian air defense system, but at least one of them successfully hit the Russian landing ship, causing the hull to explode and ignite a fire.

The Russian army stated that all the “Tochka-U” launched by the Ukrainian army were intercepted or missed the target. In truth, this isn’t the only instance where a ballistic missile is effectively intercepted and still does significant damage.

Satellite photos show Russian landing ship destroyed after hit by Tochka-u
Satellite photos show Russian landing ship destroyed after hit by Tochka-u

Best example is that at noon on March 14, the Ukrainian army launched a “Tochka-U” into the central square of Donetsk. Although it was eventually successfully intercepted, the sub-warheads it carried were not completely destroyed. Since the missile was over a densely populated area at that time, the wreckage of the missile caused extremely tragic killings of civilians after it fell to the ground.

The two successful but not totally successful interceptions of the “Tochka-U” on March 14 and March 23 clearly indicated that there are two severe difficulties the Russian army faces when intercepting Tochka-U ballistic missiles launched by the Ukrainian army.

There are two serious reasons why a 30 year old ballistic missile caused so much damage to Russia’s armed forces.

First, Everyone knows the air defense capabilities of Russia. Since the Russian army currently only controls a few areas on the border, and has not completely eliminated the local Ukrainian armed forces, the S-300V air defense system, which the Russian army is responsible for intercepting tasks, can only be deployed in the mainland of Russia, the Donbass area, or the like important areas such as military ports.

This also means that the time for the Russian army to intercept the “Tochka-U” is very short, and it is often possible to intercept the ballistic missile when the ballistic missile has already flown over the target or is close to the target. The wreckage of the intercepted ballistic missiles often falls into the area near the target. In addition, the Ukrainian army often carries sub-warheads to ensure the attack effectiveness due to the lack of accuracy of the “Tochka-U”, so serious incidental damage often occurs even after the interception.

In contrast, when the Ukrainian army used the “Tochka-U” to carry out military strikes on the Russian mainland in late February, the effect was relatively limited. From the 26th to the 28th, the Russian army successfully intercepted 6 Tochka-U missiles. Because the monitoring time was long, the interception is often controlled in a relatively empty unmanned area, so the collateral damage was very slight, such as what happened on March 14 and 23, forming a very strong contrast.

In fact, this is also the direct reason why countries around the world, when faced with the threat of ballistic missiles, generally try to intercept as soon as possible to avoid the wreckage of the ballistic missiles falling into their own territory and causing collateral damage. However, the sub-munitions carried by the “Tochka-U” launched by the Ukrainian army this time, although the damage is not light, they are still relatively controllable. If it is a long-range or intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with nuclear weapons, it will be unbearable for any country.

wreckage of Tochka-U after intercept by Russian air defence system
wreckage of Tochka-U after intercept by Russian air defence system

Problems of Russian air defence system

The S-300V is an old model developed by the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Even after upgrading, it cannot change the backward nature of its core architecture. More importantly, the S-300V is far less popular than the S-300P series by international buyers. Welcome, Venezuela is the only country that has introduced S-300V at present (there are rumors that my country considered the introduction of S-300V in the 1990s, but finally gave up).

The Russian army, which has been relatively budget-strapped, does not have enough resources to make large-scale improvements to the S-300V. The most typical feature S-300V is that it still uses the fragmentation method to intercept, and this is the most direct cause of serious collateral damage after the “Tochka-U” is successfully intercepted.

Methods to Intercept Ballistic missile

At present, there are two main ways to intercept ballistic missiles. One is the old-fashioned fragmentation interception. The principle is relatively simple, causing it to lose its balance and crash. After all, although the shape of ballistic missiles is very different from ordinary fighter jets and bombers, and powered by engines all the time through flight plus aerodynamic structures. With fragmentation method, The ballistic missile is mainly hit at the tail compartment, and the warhead, often has a certain residue, so that it cause greater damage after falling to the ground.

S-300V launching missiles
S-300V launching missiles

In contrast, today’s more advanced kinetic energy interception methods require for air defense missiles to precisely control their flight attitude and directly hit ballistic missiles. Since the relative acceleration is very fast in the case of the opposite flight of the two sides, the energy density of the kinetic energy impact is extremely high, and the ballistic missile can often be completely detonated, and basically no warhead remains, even if the remaining debris falls to the ground and causes damage. It is often a smashing injury, not only in a very small number, but also in a very limited range, effectively limiting the scope of collateral damage.

The new generation Russian air defence system S-500
The new generation Russian air defence system S-500

At present, the Russian-made S-300V series still all use fragmentation interception, which is very close to the technical level of American “Patriot” missile intercepted the Iraqi “Scud” ballistic missile during the 1991 Gulf War. However, the fact that it has never been able to track the Ukrainian ballistic missiles and move forward in a large area has created the embarrassment that the Russian army often suffers heavy losses even if the interception is successful. It proves that ballistic missiles, as a strategic weapon that can change the direction of war, still have their own special properties.

At the same time, the Russian army has been focusing its resources on development for more than 20 years. The S-300P series air defense systems that can be exported have made the development of the S-300V, which can really intercept ballistic missiles, extremely slow, S-400 service in very limited no. and the new generation of S-500 has been delayed and ultimately paid a very heavy price for it.


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