Making a fool of Putin’s forces, Ukraine’s decoy weapons cost Russia billions of dollars

If one design survives too long in the field, the company's decoy designers go back to the drawing board, resulting in a long and varied catalogue of fake weaponry.

Metinvest, a Ukrainian metallurgy giant with no ties to arms manufacturing, now specializes in creating decoy weapons designed to divert and confound Russian forces. 

They are created with one single aim in mind: to be destroyed as quickly as possible. And in that, the steelworks company behind them boasts, these decoy weapons are remarkably successful: hundreds have been targeted by Russian forces almost as soon as they were deployed.

These deceptively realistic replicas encompass a wide range of military equipment, from Ukrainian D-20 gun-howitzers to American-made M777 howitzers and air defense radars.

Located in a discreet hangar on the outskirts of a vast industrial site in central Ukraine, Metinvest’s workshop produces these faux arms. Despite their authentic appearance, these decoy weapons lack the functionality and hefty price tags of their real counterparts.

Metinvest has made an array of replicas of the latest American and European killing technology, including Ukrainian D-20 gun-howitzers, American-made M777 howitzers, mortar tubes and air defense radars.

The primary objectives behind this unique initiative, according to a Metinvest spokesperson, are twofold: to protect Ukrainian lives and to lure Russian forces into wasting their resources on costly kamikaze drones, shells, and missiles. The idea is for these decoys to appear as enticing targets from the sky, thereby deceiving Russian heat-seeking radars and drones.

To strike a balance between cost-effectiveness and realism, Metinvest combines inexpensive materials like plywood with enough metal to confuse Russian sensors. While the genuine M777 155mm howitzer costs millions of dollars, Metinvest’s version can be manufactured for under $1000 using basic materials like old sewer pipes. 

The key point is that Russian forces spend just as much to destroy one of these decoy howitzers with a drone strike as they would on the real weapon.

Metinvest’s spokesperson explains that they collect trophy wreckage after each hit on their decoys, considering their mission a success when their replicas are destroyed. 

Russian video was released showing a lancet suicide drone, costing at least $20,000, obliterating what they thought was a $13 million leopard tank, provided to Ukraine by Germany but it was in fact a decoy tank.

Initially, these decoys were relatively rudimentary, hastily crafted during the early days of the war to make Ukraine appear better armed than it was. As the conflict has evolved and weaponry in the region has grown more advanced, Metinvest’s decoys have also become more sophisticated.

The ultimate measure of success for these decoys is their lifespan in the field. If a particular design endures too long without being targeted, Metinvest’s designers go back to the drawing board. Consequently, their catalog of imitation weaponry continues to expand in both variety and realism.

The spokesperson emphasizes that they don’t keep track of how many decoys they produce but rather focus on how many are destroyed. So far, hundreds have met this fate, and the company struggles to meet the army’s demand. He proudly shares photographs of these decoys in action, highlighting their short-lived but impactful role in Ukraine’s defense.

One image that stands out depicts a life-sized effigy of Russian President Vladimir Putin hanging from a tree in Ukraine, also crafted by Metinvest’s team. Like the decoy weapons, the company hopes this figure too will soon become a relic of the past.

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