Alex Mercouris has mentioned the Russian abilities to intercept the Western MLRS rockets as a part of bigger discussion about their impact on the course of war in Ukraine. I had already published my thoughts regarding this issue, but I want to clarify some things regarding specifics of Russian ability to intercept those rockets and ATACMS tactical missiles.
First of all there is no difference at all in intercepting MLRS rockets and intercepting Grad or Uragan rockets. The shorter ranged MLRS unguided rockets will present almost identical target to Grad rockets. And the longer-ranged GMLRS rockets would be practically identical to Grad rockets in this regard. So the question Alex is raising why we haven’t seen Russian reports of the intercepts of those Western-supplied rockets as we see the reports of the intercepts of Soviet-era rockets.
I think the reason is that from the point of view of air-defense forces, there is almost no way to know that kind of a rocket was intercepted. They are able to classify them only by the parameters such as speed, altitude, range. So if the speed and range of western rockets is similar to the Soviet ones, there is no way to know if that was a Grad or the sorter-range HIMARS rocket, for example.
So I believe the reason is Russians don’t know themselves what they shot down, until they examine the remains or get some additional intel. That means they probably already have intercepted western rockets, not knowing for sure what it was, of thinking those there Soviet rockets.
So, contrary to Alex’s assumption, were is no need to develop new tactics or adjust anything regarding the modus operandi of Russian air-defense crews. All they have to do is continue to do the same thing they been doing for a while now. The targets are practically the same, and they lay in very close one to another in a very large spectrum of targets which Russian air-defence systems were designed to engage. Actually, I believe some typical training targets for the Russian air-defence crews include Grad and possibly Uragan rockets based practice targets. So there is no problem at all to intercept a limited amount of rockets.
Regarding the impact of ATACMS missiles potentially being supplied and used by the Ukrainians — those are much easier targets. Firstly because HIMARS can launch only on such a missile at time, and M270 only two, instead of 6 and 12 rockets respectively. Saturation of the air-defence system’s fire control and the number of launch-ready missiles is the main technically limiting factor here. So the number of targets will decrease six-fold, and their altitude and time in the air will also increase. This will make it possible to use long-range air-defence systems like S-400 to intercept ATACMS missiles at much longer distances. It will also make it more financially justified, since the cost and tactical value of ATACMS missile is much higher than MLRS rockets.
As I said in one of my previous posts, ATACMS missile presents a target similar to that of the Tochka-U missile. And those are being intercepted near 100% of the time. So ATACMS will make almost no difference to the situation on the ground just because they will be intercepted if launched at Russian-controlled territories. That is why rockets present much bigger challenge to Russians, while still being negligible to the big picture.
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