Ukraine Situation Report: Kyiv Says It Has No Defense Against Russia’s Kh-22 Missiles

The Russian missile attack on an apartment building in Dnipro on Saturday was not just one of the deadliest strikes on a civilian target so far during this 11-month-old full-on war – there have now been 40 deaths reported and more anticipated – but it also highlighted what Ukraine claims to be a major vulnerability in its ever-evolving air defense capabilities. Ukraine’s Air Force says that it cannot destroy Russia’s Soviet-era Kh-22 supersonic cruise missiles. That’s another reason, they said, why Ukraine needs more advanced air defense systems like the Patriot PAC-3 and the Aster SAMP/T.

In addition to attacks on critical infrastructure, “we see that another target was a residential building in Dnipro, which was hit by a Kh-22 missile,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuri Ignat told reporters during a press conference on Monday about the attack which sparked outrage in Ukraine and beyond. “I emphasize that it is impossible to shoot down Kh-22 missiles with the means we have in our arsenal.”

The reason Ukraine can’t shoot down the Kh-22, said Ignat, is the speed of the massive 38-foot-long delta-wing cruise missile known to NATO as the AS-4 Kitchen.

Though the missile, with its liquid-fueled rocket engine first entered production in the late 1960s, it accelerates to Mach 3 – nearly 2,300 mph – before approaching its target. In its terminal phase, the missile dives at a steep angle and attains a maximum speed of over Mach 4 – more than 3,000 mph. Primarily an anti-ship missile, the Kh-22 was originally developed as a so-called aircraft carrier killer with a secondary capability against high-priority static area targets on land.

A Kh-22 mounted on a Tu-22M, its only launch platform. Public Domain

During the Cold War, the Kh-22 was primarily armed with a nuclear warhead, although an alternative conventional high-explosive charge was available. Its limited accuracy in the land-attack application meant that it carried a nuclear warhead for this purpose, which would have been used against large area targets like airfields or ports. There has been the longer-reaching, more modern follow-on Kh-32, and existing Kh-22 stocks have likely been modified further for the conventional land attack role. Regardless, these are very dated weapons being used just as much as terror weapons to achieve any highly specific tactical gains.

A full-size mock-up of the Kh-22. Una2704/Wikimedia Commons

We reported on the first video evidence of Kh-22s being used against Ukraine in May. Attacks ramped-up quickly after as Russia burned through its more advanced long-range precision munitions. In early July, a Kh-22 struck a busy shopping center, resulting in major civilian casualties. The type has been used relatively consistently since. You can read more about the Kh-22 family of weapons in this feature on Russia’s use of long-range aviation in its invasion of Ukraine.

Accurate or not, Ukraine has not been able to defend against the Kh-22, which is launched by a Tu-22M3 Backfire-C  bomber, Ignat said Monday.

“Even the most up-to-date air defense systems that we have – for example the S-300 that works in that region – cannot shoot down the Kh-22 missile.”

All told, the Russians have fired about 210 of those missiles since Feb. 24, with none being destroyed by Ukrainian air defenses, Ignat said. Previous reports about Ukrainian air defense shooting them down, he added, were erroneous. Some of them, he said, simply missed their targets and were listed as destroyed.

The War Zone could not independently verify this claim.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, meanwhile, denied Russia hit the apartment building.

Peskov’s denial aside, the Dnipro attack is the latest example of why Ukraine needs more advanced air defense systems, Ignat said, pointing to the Patriot and SAMP/T systems promised to Ukraine.

Last month, U.S. President Joe Biden promised the delivery of a Patriot battery to Ukraine, while Germany promised one earlier this month.

And Italy has promised Ukraine the SAMP/T system, according to the Italian RID news agency.

Italy has promised Ukraine a SAMP/T air defense system, according to the RID Italian news agency. MBDA Missile Systems photo

The timetable for the SAMP/T – a battery which RID said has to be cobbled together from existing French and Italian stocks – is unknown. It will take months for the Patriots to arrive in Ukraine and have trained crews. The first Ukrainian troops arrived in the U.S. on Sunday for training on the Patriot.

And even if both systems are delivered and operational, they are no panacea, Ignat acknowledged.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think they will come in sufficient amounts to cover all of the critical infrastructure facilities in Ukraine,” he said. “But the more capabilities we have, the better it is for us.”

Under ideal circumstances, the Patriot and SAMP/T, along with previously U.S.-provided National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missiles Systems, or NASAMS and German IRIS-T SLM systems have the capability to defeat a missile like the Kh-22, David Shank, a retired Army colonel and former commandant of the Army Air Defense Artillery School at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, told The War Zone Monday afternoon.

However, the limited number and likely location of NASAMS and IRIS-T SLMs make defending a city like Dnipro against such missiles difficult, he said.

“Each of the systems is capable of defeating a Kh-22,” Shank said. “The challenge, though, is the integration of sensors to provide the early warning for these systems to engage. As for Dnipro, I don’t believe any of these systems would have been located there to provide defensive fires. Relying on a single sensor/radar to defeat this type of Mach 4+ cruise missile would be very challenging. This drives the importance of a network architecture and integrated systems.”

Ukraine’s urgency for new air defense systems was also expressed Monday by Kyiv’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladmir, who told Reuters that Kyiv’s infrastructure could collapse “at any second” as Russia’s sporadic missile attacks along with freezing winter temperatures are putting local authorities under increasing strain.

The Klitschko brothers told Reuters that they urge Ukraine’s Western allies to speed up deliveries of air defense systems capable of downing Russian missiles.

“We don’t talk about the collapse, but it can happen … at any second (because) Russian rockets can destroy our critical infrastructure in Kyiv,” Vitali said, adding that there was currently a 30% deficit in energy in the capital.

Before The War Zone readers dive into the rest of the most recent updates on the ongoing conflict below, they can also first get up to speed on recent developments through our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

The occupation governor of Sevastopol claimed Russian air defenses shot down 10 Ukrainian drones that attacked the occupied Crimean port that serves as the headquarters of Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet.

There was no damage, Mikhail Razvozhayev claimed Monday on his Telegram channel.

“The air defense and the Black Sea Fleet shot down 10 out of 10 Ukro-pilots over the sea,” Razvozhayev claimed. “No objects either in the city or in the water area were damaged. Everything is calm in the city.”

One of those drones was shot down near Belbek, said Razvovzhayev, home of the Belbek Air Base that hosts the 38th Aviation Regiment.

Monday’s attack was the latest in ongoing assaults against Russian forces on the Crimean peninsula by unmanned aerial and sea vehicles.

The Russian Wagner mercenary group claimed Monday on its Telegram channel that it captured the main train station west of the salt-mining city of Soledar. The group posted a video of seven Wagner mercenaries, holding the group’s flag and firing automatic weapons outside what they claimed was the Sol train station. The camera then pans across to railroad tracks.

Speaking of Wagner, the Barents Observer reports that one mercenary escaped from Russia to Norway and is willing to testify against Yevgeny Prigozhin, the group’s capo di tutti capi.

The fighting in and around Soledar appears to remain intense. This video by an Al Jazeera news crew shows Ukrainian troops still firing on Soledar, as well as Ukrainian troops building up trenches outside of town. It also includes an interview with the crew of a 60-year-old ZSU-23-4 Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft gun.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, despite continuing personnel and equipment losses by both sides, neither is making any appreciable territorial gains. Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:

  • The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian ground assaults near Makiivka and Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast. 
  • Russian sources claimed that Russian forces finished clearing Soledar and attacked Ukrainian positions to the north, west, and southwest of the settlement. A Ukrainian source reported that Russian forces captured a mine west of Soledar near Dvorichchia on January 15.
  • Russian forces continued to attack Bakhmut and areas to the north, east, south, and southwest of the city. Russian forces made marginal territorial gains southwest of Bakhmut near Andriivka.
  • Ukrainian Kherson Oblast Military Advisor Serhiy Khlan stated that Russian forces increased their presence in occupied Kherson Oblast and that some Wagner Group forces arrived in Kherson Oblast. Russian occupation head of Kherson Oblast Vladimir Saldo claimed that the restoration of the Henichesk-Arabat Spit bridge improved Russian logistics in occupied Kherson Oblast.

The United Kingdom announced its largest military aid package to date.

In addition to 14 Challenger 2 tanks, the package, according to Reuters, also includes:

  • Eight AS90 155mm self-propelled howitzers.
  • Hundreds more armored and protective vehicles including Bulldog personnel carriers.
  • A maneuver support package including minefield breaching and bridging capabilities.
  • Dozens more “uncrewed aerial systems” to support artillery.
  • Another 100,000 artillery rounds.
  • Hundreds more missiles, including Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS), Starstreak air defense, and medium-range air defense missiles.
  • A package of spares to refurbish up to 100 Ukrainian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.

You can read more about this package in our specific coverage on it here.

Ukraine also received its eighth Zuzana 2 self-propelled howitzer from the Slovak Republic, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry (MoD).

German arms maker Rheinmetall can not deliver refurbished Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine before 2024 at the earliest and would need a confirmed order to begin the work, its chief executive told the German Bild newspaper on Sunday.

“We still have 22 Leopard 2 vehicles that we could prepare for use and deliver to the Ukraine,” said Armin Papperge. “We still have around 88 vehicles from the Leopard 1. But we cannot repair these tanks without an order, as the costs are several hundred million euros. Rheinmetall cannot finance that in advance.”

Ukraine’s repeated requests for Leopard 2 tanks have been delayed because as of yet, Germany has declined to sign off on donations of those tanks from other countries, like Poland. The terms of the original sales of those tanks give officials in Berlin the authority to block foreign transfers, but they have been under very active political pressure from allies in recent weeks to allow them to proceed. Last week, German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck publicly came out in favor of approving requests from other countries.

The air forces of Russia and Belarus began a joint tactical flight exercise Monday, according to the Belarus Defense Ministry Telegram channel.

“The main goal of the exercise is to increase operational compatibility in the joint performance of combat training tasks,” the Belarusian MoD stated. The two air forces are working on a variety of tasks, including joint air patrols, air support for ground troops, tactical air assault landings, supply delivery and casualty evacuation.

The exercise comes as Ukraine keeps a wary eye on its northern border over concerns of a possible new wave of attacks. While it is unclear just how valid those concerns are, Russia and Belarus did stage large-scale exercises before the full-on invasion, but that buildup was far larger than anything being seen in Belarus at this time.

An Iranian lawmaker acknowledged that Russian-made Su-35 Flanker-E fighters will arrive there next year.

Shahriar Heydari, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy of the Islamic Council Commission of the Islamic Council told the Iranian Tasnim news agency that the “fighter jets ordered by Iran from Russia will arrive in the country early next year.”

In exchange, “we have given orders to Russia such as defense systems, missiles and helicopters, and most of these weapons will enter the country soon,” he added. You can read more about that deal in our coverage here.

Ukrainian air defense troops aren’t the only ones receiving training outside their country. Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said training began Sunday at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany and will continue for five or six weeks, The Washington Post reported. About 500 soldiers will go through the initial version combined-arms warfare training, in which tanks, artillery, combat vehicles and other weapons operate together.

“We want the Ukrainians to have a capability to successfully defend their country,” Milley said. “Ukraine is doing nothing more than defending itself, and they are trying to liberate Russian-occupied Ukraine.”

Training for Ukrainian troops on the 50 M2A2-ODS Bradley Fighting Vehicles the U.S. has promised to send Ukraine is also underway.

Another Russian T-90MS tank was spotted burning on the battlefield.

Death of the Ukrainian T-84 Oplot tank, to butcher a phrase, has perhaps been exaggerated. A video of one rolling along a road has emerged on social media.

Bakhmut remains a bloody fight for both sides. Drone video, seen below, shows what appears to be a Russian armored vehicle burning after an artillery strike.

The M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, along with the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, both fire 227mm Guided Multiple Launch Rockets System (GMLRS) munitions with ranges in excess of 40 miles that have proven a huge asset for Ukraine. This video shows what it is like to watch one in action.

And while M270s and HIMARS have been highly lauded, the Soviet-era Bureviy 220mm multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) remains a fearsome but blunt weapon, as seen in this video below of Ukraine using the system to attack a Russian position.

Drones remain a challenge for both sides. But sometimes those challenges are overcome.

That appears to be the case in this situation involving what appeared to be a Ukrainian OSA surface-to-air missile (SAM) system destroyed by a Russian Lancet drone. Only, as the Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group reports, the Russians hit a decoy instead. You can see for yourself on this video below.

As fearsome as war looks from the perspective of rockets firing or drone observations, it’s even more intense from the perspective of troops fighting on the ground, as you can see in this video below purportedly of Ukrainian soldiers pushing back a Russian attack in Luhansk.

Every so often, evidence of the war winds up outside the borders of Ukraine. Like the booster section of a Russian Pantsir-1 air defense rocket, apparently found washed ashore on the Romanian Black Sea port city of Constanta. That’s more than 200 miles from the nearest Russian position.

And finally, Ukrainian politician and Army volunteer Serhiy Prytula claims that a drone he donated picked up a radio from a dead Russian soldier, enabling him to listen into secret Russian communications for nine days, leading to the deaths of more Russian troops. The War Zone could not independently verify his claims.

That’s it for now. We will update this story if there is anything major to add.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.