Ukraine’s Air Defense Decoys Keep Getting Better

New Ukrainian decoys of a surface-to-air missile system and an air defense radar are among the most accurate seen so far.

byThomas Newdick|
Ukraine's high-end weapons decoys.
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Ukraine’s latest fake military equipment has been rolled out onto the battlefield and they are some of the most realistic we’ve seen since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Measures to deceive the enemy have been extensive throughout the war so far, on both sides, but dummies of ground-based air defense systems — among the most prized targets for the opposition — have been notable for their considerable fidelity.

Among the most recent — and authentic — dummies used by Ukraine are those replicating the German-supplied IRIS-T SLM surface-to-air missile system and the U.S.-made AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel radar system. The latter is used to alert other short-range air defense systems (SHORADS).

A photo of the IRIS-T SLM decoy and a brief video showing the AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel replica appeared recently on social media. Both are seen in warehouses or factories, apparently prior to their deployment to the front lines.

In both cases, the attention to detail paid by their manufacturers is impressive.

The IRIS-T SLM mockup is a faithful, life-size copy of the original, a system that you can read more about here.

The decoy replicates the 8x8 launch vehicle for the IRIS-T SLM, a MAN cross-country truck, complete with stabilizing outriggers that can be deployed, an access ladder for the crew, wing mirrors, and fuel filler. The decoy is shown ‘loaded’ with containerized missiles at the rear of the truck, while the ‘desert’ camouflage scheme is also familiar to observers of the IRIS-T SLM — it was seemingly applied on systems originally built for Egypt but then transferred to Ukraine.

An IRIS-T SLM launcher with desert camouflage on static display at the ILA Berlin Air Show in 2022. Boevaya mashina/Wikimedia Commons

The decoy of the trailer-mounted AN/MPQ-64 takes realism a step further, with a mechanism that ensures the fake radar antenna rotates as on the real thing — the system has a scan rate of 30 rpm to provide 360-degree coverage.

The highly elaborate Sentinel Radar decoy with rotating antenna.

This is not the first decoy of its kind, with a previous AN/MPQ-64 mock-up being shown last summer. It’s unclear if that also featured a rotating radar antenna but it otherwise also looked very convincing.

Ukraine’s real AN/MPQ-64 appears to be used primarily alongside the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) and the shorter-range Humvee-based Avenger. However, it can also be used with other air defense systems, too, including the HAWK, also supplied to Ukraine.

The AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel air defense radar. Raytheon

What’s notable is that both these decoys are designed to protect Ukrainian ground-based air defense systems from Russian attack, reflecting the high priority that these assets have. They are truly a precious commodity.

Systems like the IRIS-T SLM and AN/MPQ-64 are vital for Ukraine to challenge operations by Russian crewed and uncrewed aircraft, as well as cruise missiles, over the front lines and deeper into Ukrainian territory. Throughout the conflict, Ukraine has extracted a heavy toll on Russian tactical airpower, consistently preventing Moscow from gaining the air superiority that would allow its troops to operate under better defensive cover and with more consistent air support.

An IRIS-T SLM system in Ukraine. АрміяInform/Wikimedia Commons

On several occasions, confirmed by video evidence, Russia has targeted dummy air defense systems. It seems that more than once, dummy IRIS-T SLM systems have worked as planned and been attacked by Russia, consuming valuable one-way attack drones and confusing Russian forces. At the same time, Russian forces appear to have also launched attacks against genuine IRIS-T SLMs, at least once, although the results were inconclusive.

Just earlier this week, a video appeared, apparently first via Russian social media channels, showing what appears to be an attack on an IRIS-T SLM decoy, purportedly in the Kharkiv region in the east of the country.

Here, the supposed missile launcher has its missile containers in the upright position, ready to fire, with the vehicle covered by a green tarpaulin. A separate ‘radar vehicle’ has a rotating radar antenna, presumably mimicking the TRML-4D active electronically scanned array (AESA) system. Both vehicles are dug in for protection.

The change of perspective in the second part of the video, showing the Russian attack itself, means it’s possible that it could be two different incidents spliced together. Either way, minor details on the IRIS-T SLM suggest it’s a faithful replica, rather than the real thing.

Aside from ground-based air defense systems, Ukrainian decoy-building ingenuity has been evident in the production and fielding of replicas of the Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 ground-attack aircraft. So accurate was one such specimen that pro-Russian channels on social media celebrated its destruction, by a Lancet loitering munition, late last year, as if it was the real thing. You can read about that particular drone attack, at Dolgintsevo, an airbase near Kryvyi Rih, in central Ukraine, here.

It’s also worth noting that the U.S. has begun investing heavily in decoys and similar forms of battlefield deception as it prepares for a potential fight in the Pacific. You can read all about these initiatives here.

Back to Ukraine, repeated warnings from officials that the country is running low on ground-based air defenses systems suggest that the value of those already in its possession will only grow. This is especially the case for the high-end Western-supplied systems like the IRIS-T SLM and AN/MPQ-64. With that in mind, we are likely to see more innovative measures to create convincing decoys as the war continues.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com

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