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The ‘onion rings’ of defences protecting Ukraine’s cities from Russian missiles

On Tuesday, Russian forces fired a barrage of 18 rockets on Kyiv. Ukraine claims that all of the missiles were destroyed.

Ukraine’s air defences have become increasingly effective at stopping Russian missile launches by using “onion ring” consisting of various guns and missiles supplied by the West.

Ukraine has many options for defending its skies, from Stinger missiles which can be carried by one soldier to cutting-edge Patriot systems.

Sky News spoke with military analyst Philip Ingram to find out why Kyiv’s air defences have become so effective and what psychological boost it gives the people.


Let’s go back to the 24th of February 2022, the first hours of the invasion. Russia had launched over 100 missiles on land and at sea.

Image: After missiles have been shot down, debris can still cause damage to the ground – as seen in Kyiv Tuesday

The missiles targeted military and air defence infrastructure and were fired from several cities, including Kyiv. The sounds of explosions and sirens were heard in the capital, taking many by surprise.

Ukraine is better prepared now than it was 14 months ago.

Ukraine: More Information

The Kremlin launched missiles against Ukraine overnight on Tuesday. The Ukrainian air force confirmed that all were shot down.

Sky News reports that Mr Ingram says the Ukraine has been able to shoot down 96-98% Russian missiles as a result of a variety of defense elements working together.

‘Onion rings’ defence

He said that a layered air defense system was like an onion ring of air defence capabilities.

According to Mr Ingram, Ukraine has some short-range missiles, such as the Starstreak portable system, and guns at the lowest levels.

There will be many troops stationed in cities and areas with critical infrastructure.

Image An Ukrainian soldier on the frontline of Mykolaiv in August 2022

Ukraine has several medium-range systems, including the Soviet S-300 as well as others provided by its allies.

These are capable of medium-level anti-aircraft capabilities and can also be used against drones and cruise missiles.

The Patriot system, which is supplied by Germany and the US, is the highest level.

Mr Ingram said: “And this is a series protective domes that go up to different heights, and out to various ranges around the targets you’re protecting.”

He says that while the defenses are effective at shooting down missiles it does not mean they have no impact on the earth. The debris from missiles that have been intercepted can cause injury to people on the ground.

Image: A warhead from a Kh47 Kinzhal Russian Hypersonic Missile that Ukraine claims it shot down

What is the process by which Ukraine goes from detecting missiles to shooting them down?

So the sequence of events will be that Western intelligence picks up a launch – and there’s a way to send that information in real time to the Ukrainians.

The real-time data on missile launches will help identify the launch site, the type of missile and its likely trajectory.

The Ukrainians will have a different amount of time to react depending on what type of missile they are facing. This can range from minutes to over an hour.

Image: A residential zone in Zaporizhzhia severely damaged by a Russian rocket strike in May

The air defence personnel can decide the best course and intercept the missile before the target is reached.

He says that the effectiveness of this system is due to its multiple layers under a single control and command system, which are constantly updated with intelligence.

What does this mean to Ukraine’s war efforts?

“It is yet another victory for the Ukrainians as they fight to save their homeland, which is a complex and very difficult battle,” says Mr Ingram.

He adds that it is also important psychologically, as it protects the population, while the soldiers are on the front lines.

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The battle for Bakhmut

He added that “it’s probably the main reason why the Russians have stopped using their fixed-wing aircraft to fly over Ukrainian territory.”

“The Russians are largely confined to their frontlines.

“Now, if the Ukrainians could move their air defence capability forward to their frontlines and place that bubble over their troops in the frontlines that would then push Russian fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft back even further. This will help the Ukrainians with any counterattack they are putting together.”


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