Faced with a depleting stockpile of long-range missiles at a time when NATO nations are strengthening Ukrainian air defense, reports from Kyiv confirm that Moscow has now resorted to using its Soviet-era cruise missiles with non-explosive warheads.
According to a Ukrainian military official, Moscow’s purpose of using unarmed cruise missiles is aimed at “exposing,” “distracting” and “exhausting” Ukrainian air defense systems while weaponized missiles hit critical civilian infrastructure in the country.
“The deliberate launch of these missiles is aimed at conducting demonstration actions, distracting the attention of the Ukrainian air defense system, exhausting it at a time when modern Russian Kh-101 and 3M-14 missiles of the Kalibr complex are targeting critical infrastructure objects and residential quarters, which can significantly increase the efficiency of their use,” said Colonel Mykola Danyliuk, at a briefing according to a report by Ukrinform on Thursday.
Danyliuk is a representative of the Central Military Scientific Department of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
According to the Ukrinform report, fragments of Russia’s Kh-55SM missile warhead were demonstrated at the briefing. Danyliuk pointed out that even an “unequipped” missile with its own kinetic energy and fuel residues poses a significant threat due to its ability to cause indiscriminate damage.
The Ukrinform report said Russia has been using its Soviet-generation Kh-55 cruise missile, carried exclusively by Russian strategic bombers to attack Ukraine since the invasion began in Feb. 2022.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense on Saturday raised similar suspicion that Moscow was using Soviet-era missiles as a decoy. Based on open source images of the wreckage of a Russian AS-15 KENT air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) shot down by Ukrainian forces, the U.K.’s Defense Intelligence had suggested that Russian forces were probably using older cruise missiles without nuclear warheads.
According to the U.K. Defense Intelligence update, the AS-15 KENT system was designed in the 1980s exclusively as a nuclear delivery system, adding that ballast was probably being substituted for the warheads. The update pointed out that the improvisation also highlighted the level of depletion that Moscow was facing in its stockpile of long-range missiles.
The Kh-55SM (NATO designation AS-15 “KENT”) is an extended-range version of the Kh-55 (AS-15) ALCM developed by the Soviet Union in 1971 capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. Compared to the Kh-55, which has a range of about 2,500 km (1553 miles), the Kh-55SM has an increased range of about 3000 km (or 1864 miles) along with a higher launch weight, featuring a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead.
As reported, along with mounting losses on the battlefront in Ukraine, Russia is now also facing a shortage of weapons and delays in military production crippled by Western sanctions. It has led Moscow to turn to pariah states like Iran and North Korea to buy shells and rockets. Fears have also been raised that the shortage of weapons may drive Russian President Vladimir Putin to dip into Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal to achieve victory or at least freeze the conflict in Ukraine.