Aircraft Downed Inside Russia By Patriot System: Ukrainian Air Force

Five aircraft that were downed inside Russia back in May were hit by a Patriot missile system, Ukraine’s Air Force spokesman says.

byOliver Parken|
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The Ukrainian Air Force has now confirmed that a number of Russian aircraft shot down back in May over their own territory were indeed destroyed by a foreign-supplied Patriot air defense system. The possibility that Ukraine’s newly acquired Patriots may have been responsible for blasting those aircraft out of the sky was highlighted by The War Zone back in July, following the release of video by the Ukrainian Air Force seemingly linking the destruction of three Russian helicopters on May 13 to a Patriot system.

Confirmation that a Patriot system was used to destroy three Russian Mi-8 Hip helicopters, a Su-34 Fullback strike fighter, and a Su-35 Flanker-E in Russia’s Bryansk region on May 13 was provided by Col. Yuri Ignat, the Ukrainian Air Force spokesman, to the Ukrainian Novynarnia media outlet on November 27.

A typical Patriot battery, a forced acronym standing for Phased Array Tracking Radar for Intercept, consists of a AN/MPQ-65 or AN/MPQ-53 radar, and requisite fire control, communications, and other support components, as well as up to eight trailer-mounted launchers. You can read more about the Patriot system, and its use in the Ukraine conflict, in these past War Zone pieces.

According to a machine translation of Novynarnia’s interview with Ignat, the Ukrainian Air Force spokesman noted that the May 13 shoot-downs were:

"a brilliant operation led by the commander of the Air Force. Thanks to their unconventional and decisive actions, [Ukrainian] Patriot SAM units destroyed five aircraft in five minutes in the Bryansk direction, from where they were then bombarding our northern regions with guided missiles. I jokingly call it the 'Bryansk difference.'"

Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Col. Yuri Ignat pictured in June 2022. Ukrainian Media Center

Following the events of May 13, foreign-donated Patriot systems were also responsible for downing other Russian aircraft, Ignat highlights, leading to shifting Russian aerial tactics.  

"Another Su-35 was shot down [by a Patriot system] over the Black Sea. It happened some time after the events in [the] Bryansk region [on May 13]. And after that, they [Russian aircraft] stopped flying there for a while, because they realized that it was dangerous there, they could be shot down." 

Ignat also highlighted the importance of Patriot batteries to aerial defense closer to home during the interview; including in shooting down Iskander short-range ballistic missiles and examples of the Kinzhal air-launched derivative in and around Kyiv. Just days after the events of May 13, as The War Zone has indicated previously, one of Ukraine’s Patriot batteries defending the capital detected more than a dozen incoming Russian missiles including six Kinzhals, at a distance of about 125 miles. The Patriot system destroyed all of them, the last at a distance of about 9 miles. 

"We [have downed] 15… 'Daggers' [Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic air launched ballistic missiles altogether]… plus dozens of… ballistic missiles that were flying towards Kyiv," Ignat noted to Novynarnia.

Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, 2018 Moscow Victory Day Parades. Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

"Patriot… is extremely serious technology. After all, only a head-on collision [hit-to-kill] guarantees the downing of a ballistic missile, and all this is done without human intervention. Our people with combat experience of shooting down the 'Daggers' will become mentors not only for our cadets, but also for foreigners. Because no one in the world from the Patriot has yet shot down the Dagger, [bar Ukraine’s air defense forces]." It should be noted that PAC-3-series interceptors used with the Patriot system, variants of which have been sent by the U.S. to Ukraine, feature an explosive Lethality Enhancer (LE) to increase the probability of target kill. You can read more about all this here.

While the possibility that the Russian aircraft downed on May 13 could have been targeted by a surface-to-air missile system such as Patriot was raised in our initial reporting on that day, subsequent video released by the Ukrainian Air Force on July 3 pointed towards that air defense system more specifically. In the footage, two Russian fighters and three Russian helicopters are seen emblazoned on the side of a Patriot battery — all with the date "130523" underneath them.

Screen capture of the Ukrainian Air Force video shows images of three Russian helicopters and two Russian fighters painted on the side of a Patriot air defense battery. The three helicopter and two jet images bear the date May 13. Defense Industry of Ukraine

Why Ignat confirmed the use of Patriot in downing the five Russian aircraft in May now is unclear, beyond being asked directly about it in an interview. During a press conference on July 3 — the same day that the Ukrainian Air Force released the video — he made no reference to claims that Patriot was used in the aforementioned operation, and was not asked about it by reporters. The sensitivity of using U.S.-donated advanced weapons to prosecute targets in Russian territory could have been a major factor.

Whatever the reason for the outright confirmation, it should be noted that the Patriot system downed the Russian aircraft at great distance. As we previously noted, one of the  helicopters was said to have been hit around 160 miles from the Ukrainian capital, where Ukraine’s foreign-supplied Patriot systems are primarily located. While it is possible that a Patriot interceptor could have hit a target at that distance, the probability of this occurring was likely low, David Shank, a retired Army colonel and former commandant of the Army Air Defense Artillery School at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, told us. There is also the possibility that remote Patriot site launchers were set up to engage longer-range targets, Shank noted, while the system’s radar may have detected and tracked the targets before replaying information to an air defense system much closer to Kyiv.

U.S Patriot system. DoD

According to the Oryx open-source intelligence group, Ukraine has received two Patriot batteries, one from Germany (consisting of German and Dutch components) and one from the U.S., to bolster its air defenses. The U.S.’s Patriot battery available inventory has been put under pressure overall due to the in Ukraine as well as the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, with concerns being raised over how many could be mobilized should a war in the Pacific unfold. Germany pledged a second Patriot battery in October, which has yet to be delivered. The Netherlands has delivered a pair of Patriot launcher components to Ukraine, and since pledged further missiles.

While the claims made by Ukraine still can’t be verified by additional sources, it seems more likely than ever that Patriot was involved in the mass shoot-down that day, which would provide additional merit to its service so far in the war-torn country.

Contact the author: oliver@thewarzone.com

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