In an unprecedented daylight strike on September 20, Ukraine launched 8 Strom Shadows stealth cruise missiles from 11 Su-24M tactical bombers targeting Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) at Sevastopol.
Despite the use of sophisticated tactics such as flying low over the Black Sea to escape detection by Russian air defense (AD) systems and the use of 3 AGM-160 MALD decoy missiles, the attack failed completely. Not one Storm Shadow missile struck its target!
The attack on September 20 was an attempt by Ukraine to repeat the success of its attack on the night of September 13, when it struck the port city of Sevastopol with 11 Storm Shadow missiles. During the September 13 strike, 3 Storm Shadow missiles had slipped through Russian air defenses and destroyed a BSF submarine and a landing ship in dry dock.
In the daylight strike on September 20, the Ukrainian frontline bombers reportedly took off from the Starokonstantinov airbase in the Khmelnytskyi region and flew to the border of the Odessa and Nikolaev regions. Two Su-24M went further south to Ochakov, the second launch point.
Of the 8 Storm Shadows that were launched, 5 were shot down by crews of the Pantsir-S1 air defense missile system of the 31st Air Force and Air Defense Division. Three were brought down near Sevastopol.
The Success of Russian EW & Aerosol Countermeasures
Following the loss of frontline warships in Sevastopol to the Ukrainian missile attack on September 13, Russia had learned its lessons and deployed countermeasures to prevent a repeat of the Ukrainian success.
The countermeasures included the deployment of the powerful Krasukha 4 EW systems in the Kherson region, covering the possible directions of attack and in the target area. Also, the deployment of artillery systems capable of generating an aerosol cloud around likely targets.
The EurAsian Times had published a detailed analysis of these countermeasures and their likely impact on future Ukrainian attacks.
Our analysis pointed out that the Krasukha 4 EW system can screen targets from radar Imaging and thwart radio frequency missile seekers, while aerosol clouds can screen targets from optical imaging and thwart optical seekers on missiles.
In conclusion, we had stated: “With increased deployment of Krashuka systems and the use of aerosol-cloud generating shells, Russian forces will be able to severely curtail US ability to identify targets and image them for attacks by cruise missiles.”
Krasukha 4 Success
During the September 20 attack, two Storm Shadows were brought down over the Kherson region. The acting governor of the region, Vladimir Saldo, wrote on his Telegram channel (TC).
“Today, two long-range Western-made Storm Shadow missiles launched by militants of the Kyiv regime were neutralized over the Kherson region. One was shot down by air defense, and the control of the other was intercepted by electronic warfare, after which it fell to the ground.”
The Storm Shadow missile is EW resilient. In the case of satellite navigation signal jamming, it reverts to inertial navigation. One way, possibly the only way, it can be brought down using EW is if its onboard avionics (radio altimeter, fly-by-wire system) are rendered dysfunctional. Completely incapacitating onboard avionics requires a high-power EW warfare system, and the only such system in the war zone is the Krashukha 4.
Saldo triumphantly notes in his TC post that the missiles “are made safe for Russians by Russian military personnel, armed with high-tech weapons and equipped with advanced electronic equipment.”
Aerosol Screening Success
As predicted in our analysis, aerosol screening was successfully used to frustrate the attack on Sevastopol. The wreckage of the three Storm Shadow missiles shot down near Sevastopol fell in the village of Kacha and the village of Verkhnesadov, resulting in a fire in the grass.
Mikhail Razvozhaev, the governor of Sevastopol, wrote in his TC, “According to updated information, our air defense services repelled a missile attack on Sevastopol. Now everything is calm in the city. Information on possible damage from fallen parts of downed missiles and victims is being clarified. All operational services are working.”
The governor also warned that standard aerosol camouflage agents were used in the area of Sevastopol Bay.
Storm Shadow missiles are programmed to self-destruct if they cannot identify their target based on the target satellite photos loaded into the optical seeker memory. The reason why Ukraine launched the attack during daylight hours could have been aimed at enabling the Storm Shadow optical seeker to see through the aerosol spray.
Storm Shadow Attacks On September 19
Some sources report that a day earlier, on September 19, the Ukrainian military had again attacked the Crimean Bridge with Storm Shadow missiles. The missiles were shot down near Melitopol and Genichesk in the Zaporozhye region.
Su-24M Shoot Down
Not only did the Storm Shadow missiles launched on September 20 fail to hit their targets, one of the Su-24M launch platforms was brought down by RuAF fighters.
According to the RuMoD, RuAF fighter jets intercepted one Ukrainian Air Force Su-24m fighter bomber close to Novovladimirovka (Nikolayev region). Remarkably, the point of interception is almost 140 km behind the battlefront.
Unprecedented Kamikaze Drone Attack
The day of September 20 proved to be astonishing for another reason. A Russian drone struck one Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29 fighter jet at the Dolgintsevo airfield (Dnepropetrovsk region).
Russia’s Lancet kamikaze drone’s latest version hits a parked Ukrainian MiG-29 fighter at an airbase in Krivoy Rog on September 19. #UkraineWar pic.twitter.com/Ct3lehfSaM
— EurAsian Times (@THEEURASIATIMES) September 20, 2023
It was the first Russian kamikaze drone strike on a Ukrainian airbase as well as a Ukrainian fighter. What is extraordinary about the drone strike is that Dolgintsevo airfield is 75 km behind the battlefront. Russian kamikaze drones such as the Lancet 3 are believed to have a range of 40 km.
Aeroscan Product 53
The drone used was possibly the Aroscan Product 53 drone displayed for the first time during Army 2023. Product 53 is a containerized drone capable of swarm operations and independently locating and striking a target based on predetermined parameters.
Product 53 drones can relay target information between themselves and attack fully autonomously, choosing targets from pre-set categories. The drone has a maximum payload of 5 kg.
The attack on the MiG-29 was filmed by another drone which could have been a relay Product 53 drone or an Orion MALE drone.
Russian success in countering the Storm Shadow and its analogs has been impressive. But as in chess, so in war, every move has a countermove. Ukrainian attempts are likely to continue.
The US, NATO, and Ukraine remain obsessed with attacking Crimea in general and the BSF home base in Sevastopol and the Crimean bridge in particular.
As we pointed out in an earlier analysis, the attacks on Crimea have more to do with US & NATO attempts to weaken Russia. The attacks cannot conceivably help Ukraine revitalize its faltering counteroffensive.
For Ukraine, the occasional success is a political victory that prevents Ukrainian citizens from becoming restive over the eventual outcome of the war.
- Vijainder K Thakur is a retired IAF Jaguar pilot. He is also an author, software architect, entrepreneur, and military analyst. VIEWS PERSONAL
- Follow the author @vkthakur