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Putin’s ‘undefeatable’ missile was a costly illusion – the West can’t make the same mistake

While Western high-tech weaponry is flooding into Ukraine to prepare for the spring offensive, Russia has also been trying to beef up its arsenal.

The country has traded SU-35 fighters with Iran for the continued supply of Iranian Shahid 136 drones. It also deployed state-of-the art missile systems for first time.

Will these radical measures have a significant impact on the outcome of the war?

Latest: Putin accuses West of trying to split up Russia


These drones, which are neither sophisticated nor expensive, allow Russia to maintain nightly pressure against Ukraine’s limited air defence missiles.

These missiles have little military value and are an “irritant” to Ukraine.

The latest high-tech weaponry from Russia, the KILLJOY Air-Launched hypersonic ballistic rocket, which President Vladimir Putin described as “undefeatable”, appeared to give Moscow’s forces a chance to cut through Ukrainian defenses without fear.

The West had no idea what the KILLJOY missile was capable of before it was fired, so the missile held a great deal of mystique, as well as deterrence power.

The West could then analyse the capabilities, limitations, and vulnerabilities of the system. On 3 May, Ukraine appears to have shot down one, and several others suffered a similar fate in the days that followed.

Image: Russian sailors on a frigate armed with hypersonic missiles

West cannot risk exposing his hand

It would have taken many years and billions of dollar to develop the KILLJOY, but its value was in its potential.

To deter potential aggressors, nations invest in credible military capabilities. Secret weapon programs sow doubts in the minds and hearts of potential enemies, even when actual capabilities fall short of what was anticipated.

The West, therefore, is careful to limit its combat capabilities to prevent “exposing their hand” and to reduce the possibility that donated weapons could find their way to the black market in the country – which is the case in Ukraine.

Western warfighters do not always have the latest technology in conflict zones such as Afghanistan. This is to ensure that they can preserve high-tech, state-of-the art weapons for future national survival wars.

The UK’s Storm Shadow missile is very capable, but its technology is 25 years-old. A midlife upgrade is planned for the UK in the near future.

The UK, by deciding to give Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine , was reducing the risk that the national capability would be compromised.

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The US Patriot air defence systems were first deployed in 1986 and, although they have been regularly upgraded, it is unlikely that the system being used in Ukraine will be the most recent generation.

Russia claims to have destroyed the Patriot system that was defending Kyiv. This could expose the weaknesses of this powerful air defence system.

If the Patriot had been damaged by a Russian attack then the damage was probably not severe as it appears that the Patriot is back in action.

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The concept of limiting military capabilities is not new. In the Second World War the Allies cracked the Enigma Code, which allowed them to intercept all German traffic.

The allies, however, were careful to limit the exploitation of Enigma, as if Germany discovered that it was compromised, they would lose this vital intelligence.

The same philosophy that led to the loss of lives by maintaining this sensitive secret is still in place today.

The West has a military advantage that is asymmetric, and this must be protected.

Putin’s mistake was to believe in his own hype. The “undefeatable missile” has proved an expensive illusion.


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