Russia appears to be using “decoy” missiles that trick air-defense radars and heat-seeking missiles in Ukraine, US intelligence officials to The New York Times.
Intelligence officials discovered foot-long dart-shaped decoys that have been released by Russia’s Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles that Russia is firing from mobile launches across the border when the missile senses it has been targeted by air defense systems.
Each decoy is packed with electronics and produces radio signals that jam enemy radars and contain a heat source to attack heat-seeking missiles.
The report may explain why Ukrainian air defense systems have struggled to intercept the Iskander missiles.
The Iskander missiles can reach distances of more than 200 miles.
“I had never seen this”:
Photos of the munitions have been circulating on social media for weeks, stumping intelligence experts.
Richard Stevens, a 22-year British vet who worked as an explosive ordnance disposal soldier and as a civilian bomb technician, told the Times he had been exposed to “plenty of Chinese and Russian munitions, but I had never seen this.”
When Stevens reached out to his associates, they were stumped too.
“That Russia is using that size of weapon — the Iskander-M — and quite a few of them I believe, that’s why we’re seeing this now,” Stevens said. “It’s just that, post-conflict in the past 10 to 15 years, no one has had the opportunity to see this.”
The munitions had not been documented in other areas but Russia’s use of them in Ukraine may help the west learn to quickly counter them.
“The minute people came up with missiles, people started trying to shoot them down, and the minute people started trying to shoot them down, people started thinking about penetration aids,” Jeffrey Lewis, a professor of nonproliferation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told the Times. “But we never see them because they’re highly secret — if you know how they work, you can counteract them.”
Lewis said that now that Russia has used them in Ukraine, western intelligence services can study them.
“That suggests to me that the Russians place some value on keeping that technology close to home and that this war is important enough to them to give that up. They’re digging deep, and maybe they no longer care, but I would care if I were them,” he said. “I think that there are some very excited people in the U.S. intelligence community right now.”