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“Week-long ambush” preceded historic Russian Tu-22 bomber downing, Ukraine intel chief says, confirming S-200 use

Ukraine’s military intelligence chief reveals details of the successful operation to down a Russian Tu-22M3 bomber, confirms the use of the S-200 surface-to-air missile.
Wreckage of the crashed Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bomber in Russia’s Stavropol Krai. Source: Telegram channel Astra
“Week-long ambush” preceded historic Russian Tu-22 bomber downing, Ukraine intel chief says, confirming S-200 use

Ukraine’s spymaster has confirmed the successful downing of a Russian Tu-22M3 Backfire-C strategic bomber, marking the first such incident in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war, and provided details of the operation, confirming the use of the Soviet-era S-200 surface-to-air missile.

The operation, carried out jointly by Ukraine’s military intelligence and air forces, targeted the bomber, which was capable of carrying Kh-22 missiles used in strikes against Ukrainian cities.

Details of the operation

Kyrilo Budanov, the chief of Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR) told BBC Ukraine that the operation involved a week-long “ambush” where Ukrainian forces waited for the Russian bomber to reach the desired range.

We waited for a long time, prepared, and finally succeeded,” Budanov said, describing the successful downing of the Tu-22M3.

The strategic bomber was hit from a distance of 308 km, using the same tactics and means employed in the previous downing of a Russian A-50 radar aircraft, Budanov revealed.

Media sources: Ukraine used old S-200 long-range SAM system to down Russia’s Tu-22M3 strategic bomber for the first time

In his remarks to TWZ, Budanov said that the Russian bomber was shot down by a Soviet-era S-200 long-range surface-to-air missile, confirming earlier reports by news outlets, referring to their security sources. 

Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Ilia Yevlash said:

Everything happens for the first time. We shot down a Kinzhal [hypersonic ballistic missile] for the first time, and a Zircon [hypersonic cruise missile] for the first time. Now we have shot down a Tu-22 for the first time. Now we are waiting for the Tu-95 (another strategic bomber used by Russia, – Ed.),” he told Radio Liberty.

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Implications for Russian strikes

Budanov expressed hope that the downing of the Tu-22M3 would alleviate the situation in Odesa, which has been a frequent target of Russian strikes. He explained that the Kh-22 missiles carried by the downed bomber were likely responsible for much of the destruction in the city, as these powerful and fast missiles were difficult to intercept.

The accuracy of these missiles, being an old Soviet design, is not very high,” Budanov said, adding that the Kh-22 missiles had caused significant damage to civilian buildings in Odesa.

With the loss of the Tu-22M3, Russia will now have to seek new launch sites for its missile strikes, according to Budanov.

“I hope we won’t see the Kh-22 anymore,” Bodanov told BBC.

S-200

The Soviet-era S-200 (SA-5 Gammon) long-range surface-to-air missile, developed in the late 1960s with its latest upgrades in the 1980s, has a maximum range of 160 to 300 km depending on the model. The missile, measuring 11 meters in length, targets aerial threats with guided anti-air missiles equipped with four solid-fuel boosters. While the S-200 boasts a significantly greater range than other air defense systems like the S-300, it lacks the mobility of those systems and is launched from fixed ground platforms.

As of 2010, Ukraine reportedly had four active S-200 batteries providing air defense coverage across much of the country, with an additional 12 sites inactive. Although retired in 2013, the S-200 was reportedly brought back into service in a land-attack capacity after February 2022.

Ukrainian S-200 missiles during the Independence Day parade in Kyiv in 2008. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

TWZ states that Ukraine likely maintains some reserves of these missiles and has multiple potential launch sites. It has previously speculated that Ukraine may also have developed mobile or more deployable launchers to fire these missiles from different locations.

“[T]here remain questions about how the target acquisition and missile guidance were achieved for the engagement today [on 19 April], pointing to the possibility that the S-200 may have been modified or adapted to work in conjunction with more modern radars,” TWZ noted.

A Ukrainian defense official informed TWZ that Ukraine had received assistance from partners to enhance the guidance system of the S-200 missile, making it a more modern weapon due to its effective maneuvering capabilities.

NATO’s Response

Commenting on the downing of the Russian bomber, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that it was part of Ukraine’s right to self-defense against Russia’s military aggression.

We must remember that this is a military aggression: Russia attacked Ukraine. Ukraine has the right to self-defense. And this includes strikes on legitimate military targets, even outside [the territory of] Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said during a press conference after the NATO-Ukraine Council meeting. according to BBC Ukraine.

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