As the Ukrainian government continues to plead 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 the obsolescence 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—converting them to surface-to-surface missiles—and began firing them at targets inside Russia.
Friday’s 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 camera on the driver’s dashboard caught the eight-ton missile moments before it smashed into a city block, reportedly damaging a cafe and an apartment building and injuring a dozen people.
The S-200 attack in Taganrog comes 19 days after the first confirmed attack by the same type of missile. This attack damaged an industrial area in Bryansk, Russia, about 180 miles from the Ukrainian border.
Donations of custom-made deep-strike weapons from Ukraine’s allies tend to come with caveats — most commonly: Don’t use them on targets inside Russia.
Before the United Kingdom delivered Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles this spring, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace sought assurances from his Ukrainian counterparts that the Ukrainians would only use the stealth munitions against Russian targets in occupied Ukraine — a promise the Ukrainians appear to have since kept . launching their first Storm Shadow attack back in May.
The Ukrainians have agreed that there are no such restrictions on their home-made deep-strike weapons. Russian rocket attacks on Ukrainian cities are an almost daily occurrence. Retaliation attacks—Ukrainian rockets smashing Russian cities—may become more common as the Ukrainians improvise longer-range weapons. Not just rockets, but also drones.
Ukraine’s substantial stockpile of 1960s-vintage V-860/880 missiles begged for recycling. As a surface-to-air weapon, the bulky S-200 is obsolete. Before the current war, Ukraine converted its air defense to newer, more agile S-300 systems; now it is replacing the S-300s with Western-made SAMs that are equal easier.
But the same bulk that makes the 30-foot V-860/880 missile an air defense dinosaur also making it a useful national team weapon.
Its 500-pound warhead accounts for only a fraction of its destructive potential. Any fuel still in its tank at the time of impact will add a fire effect to its explosion effect. Check out the fireball and shockwave from Friday’s attack.