The assault of mystery ballistic missiles Russia has shot into Ukraine has a surprise: decoys that deceive air-defense radar systems and mislead heat-seeking missiles, according to American intelligence sources.
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According to an American intelligence official, the devices are about 1 foot long, fashioned like a dart, and white with an orange tail, reports Yahoo News.
They are launched by Russia’s Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles, which are launched from mobile launchers over the border, whenever the missile detects that it is being tracked by air defense systems, according to the official.
Each is jam-packed with electronics and emits radio signals to disrupt or spoof enemy radars looking for the Iskander-M, as well as a heat source to attract approaching missiles. On the wished to remain anonymous, the official, who was not permitted to communicate publicly about security matters, outlined the devices.
The employment of decoys could explain why Ukrainian air defense systems have struggled to intercept Russian Iskander missiles.
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According to US government sources, the Iskander is fueled by a solid-fuel rocket motor but also can hit objects more than 200 miles away. Before it needs to be reloaded, every mobile launcher can launch two Iskanders.
Two weeks ago, photos of the dart-shaped explosives began spreading on social media. Specialists and open-source intelligence analysts had been perplexed by them, with many mistaking them for cluster bomblets due to their scale and structure.
Richard Stevens, who served in the British Army for 22 years as an explosive ordnance disposal officer before working for ten years as a civilian bomb specialist in southern Iraq, Africa, and other locations, claimed he had been exposed “to plenty of Chinese and Russian munitions, but I had never seen this.”
Stevens uploaded images of the bombs to a site he founded in 2011 for military and civilian bomb disposal professionals, and discovered that no one else had ever seen these mysterious explosives.
“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 devices are comparable to “penetration aids,” which have accompanied nuclear warheads since the 1970s and were developed to avoid anti-missile systems and enable individual warheads to strike their targets, according to the intelligence official. The use of the devices in weaponry with conventional warheads, like as the Iskander-M, has never been recorded in military arsenals before.
“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,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a professor of nonproliferation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. “But we never see them because they’re highly secret — if you know how they work, you can counteract them.”
Given that Russia understands the decoys will undoubtedly be retrieved and analyzed by Western intelligence services so that NATO air defenses can be conditioned to subdue the Iskander’s countermeasures, Lewis believes the utilization of the decoys indicates an amount of sloppiness or immediacy on the part of Russian military leadership.
And, he added, the variant of the Iskander that Russia has supplied to other nations is extremely improbable to possess these decoys.
“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,” Lewis said. “They’re digging deep, and maybe they no longer care, but I would care if I were them.
“I think that there are some very excited people in the U.S. intelligence community right now.”