On 14 December 2023, Russia launched a missile attack on Ukraine with the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles. As in two previous cases, the touted Russian missile was headed for the strategic Starokostiantyniv airfield, which hosts carriers long-range missiles that allow Ukraine to destroy Russian headquarters and arsenals hundreds of kilometers away.
Air defense forces destroyed one missile in Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine’s Air Force reported.
“Due to the takeoff of MiG-31K aircraft from the Savasleyka airfield, Russia, at 14:09, an air alert was announced throughout Ukraine. At about 14:15, missiles were launched. They arrived in the area of Starokostiantyniv [Khmelnytskyi Oblast] at 14.20,” the statement said.
The Air Force noted that it took only 10 minutes from the air alert announcement to the arrival of the missiles in central Ukraine.
“In total, the enemy used three X-47M2 Kinzhal air-to-air ballistic missiles from three MiG-31K aircraft from the airspace of Tula region in the direction of Kyiv and Starokostiantyniv. An anti-aircraft missile unit of the Ukrainian Air Force destroyed one X-47M2 Kinzhal missile in Kyiv Oblast,” the statement said.
The Air Force emphasized that it would not comment on the consequences of the missile strike in Khmelnytskyi Oblast.
“Several enemy targets we reported earlier were probably imitated by enemy electronic warfare. However, we will continue promptly reporting the direction of movement of all targets, as it is impossible to immediately establish whether it is a real Kinzhal or a so-called ‘fake target’,” the Air Force said.
There were multiple nationwide air raid alerts in Ukraine before and after the Kinzhal attacks, linked to the activity of Kinzhal-carriers, the MiG-31K aircraft, in Russia.
In the early hours of 13 December, Russia targeted Kyiv with ten ballistic missiles. Air defenders destroyed all the air targets, but the debris of the downed missiles injured 53 people.
Additionally, Russia’s Shahed explosive drone attacks on Ukraine occur every night in recent months.
Why Russia targets Starokostiantyniv
Starokostiantyniv hosts a strategic Ukrainian Air Force base. Ukrainian Su-24 fighters equipped with UK-donated long-range Storm Shadow and French SCALP missiles are allegedly stationed at this airfield.
Storm Shadow and SCALP missiles have enabled Ukrainian jets to strike enemy objects from a distance of several hundred kilometers. This has made it possible for Ukraine to attack arsenals and headquarters in the Russian rear, bridges on the Crimean Isthmus, and the leadership of the Russian Black Sea Fleet right at a staff meeting in occupied Sevastopol, according to military expert, former General Staff spokesman Vladyslav Selezniov.
The military expert noted that long-range missile carriers have become a priority target of the Russian occupiers. They will remain important until the Ukrainian Air Force receives F-16 multi-role fighters.
“These missiles are very annoying for the enemy. Precision strikes often turn warehouses, bases, and arsenals more than 80 kilometers from the front line into a pile of scrap metal. The Russians are on a hunt for bombers,” says the former General Staff spokesman.
However, Ukrainian commanders also realize that the airfield in Starokostiantyniv is a priority target for Russia. Selezniov suggested that Su-24 bombers could be stationed at other airfields.
“This is the only way we can disperse and preserve the equipment. The confrontation is ongoing, the enemy is looking for intelligence and hunting for aircraft. And we are using airfields that have never been chosen for Su-24s before,” the military expert said.
Russia has repeatedly attacked the Starokostiantyniv airfield.
On 26 July, four Kinzhals were sent into the air base at Starokostiantyniv and reportedly hit some objects there, causing explosions.
Another Kinzhal attack on Starokostiantyniv took place on 5 August. Ukraine’s air force spox claimed that Ukrainian fighter jets were undamaged in the attack.
“This is not the first time this airfield has been attacked. It is the regular base of the tactical aviation brigade. But our aviation is quite mobile, and our pilots know how to counter the enemy in these conditions. We have dozens of operational airfields in Ukraine. Therefore, the enemy will be unable to destroy our aviation so easily,” Ukrainian Air Force spox Yurii Ihnat said then.
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