There are safe ways to dispose of potentially very hazardous military equipment, and there are other methods.
One Russian soldier seems to have taken the latter path. In the video below, he is seen in a prone position not far from an S-300 surface-to-air missile launcher, aiming at it with a PKM belt-fed machine gun. He then fires on the missiles... with predictable results.
Clad in camouflage and a ballistic helmet, the soldier charges his weapon, aims, and fires, resulting in a massive explosion. Given the ensuing blast — the missiles, four of which can be carried, run on volatile solid rocket fuel and have large blast-fragmentation warheads ranging in weight from around 220 to 330 pounds — it is difficult to believe that the gunner or whoever was filming the scene survived.
It is unclear if the S-300 transport-erector-launcher (TEL) in the video was disabled, simply ran out of gas, or if it was overrun.
S-300s make up Ukraine's upper-tier ground-based air defense capabilities. While it is incredible that many of them are still operating, and some close to the front lines, months after Russia launched its all-out invasion, there have been significant losses, and authorities in Kyiv have repeatedly asked for more S-300 systems. A single S-300PMU battery was transferred from Slovakia, but beyond that, at least as far as we know, Ukraine has been left with what it began the war with to keep Russian airpower at bay. If the S-300s are eliminated without replacement, Russia could operate over pretty much all of Ukraine's airspace with far less risk than what is presented today.
Ukraine's air defense equation will be changing as the country's first western-built SAM systems capable of area air defense over medium ranges arrive. Currently, the U.S.-Norwegian NASAMS will be on the way relatively soon and Germany will be providing its IRIS-T SLM system, but the latter is still months away from being deployed, at the soonest. Still, these systems are not capable of the same long-range engagements that the S-300 is.
Shooting a captured, loaded missile launcher with a machine gun could be a measure of Russia’s bravado, stupidly filmed for the world to watch, but it could also be a window into Russia trying to compete with Ukrainian info operations. Ukrainian forces routinely post videos online of captured Russian armored vehicles and other tactical successes. The country's use of social media to shape the narrative has been a jaw-dropping success — one that will surely be decoded for years to come. Russia appears to be increasingly trying to catch up, although not too successfully. In this case, we have an example of Russian forces sacrificing not only a SAM launcher but perhaps themselves to get a viral victory shot. Whether this was done independently by a group of soldiers or to conform to a larger strategy is unclear, but it was a massive disaster and we still got to see it, regardless.
Bottomline/PSA: DO NOT SHOOT LOADED MISSILE LAUNCHERS AT CLOSE RANGE.
Contact the author: Dan@thewarzone.com and Tyler@thedrive.com