Ukraine’s MGM-140 ATACMS missile perfectly exploits Russia’s S-400 Triumf’s 92N6E multi-function radar

The long-range ATACMS missiles that Ukraine got from the US are putting Russia on the back foot, rendering one of its tactics less effective, reported Insider. The weapon allows Ukraine to strike at great distances, reaching high-value targets like stores of weapons, equipment, and ammunition.

Ukraine said it used ATACMS in attacks on two airfields in Russian-occupied territory earlier this month, destroying Russian ammunition depots and helicopters and damaged the airfields.

Riley Bailey, a Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told Insider that ATACMS has a key advantage over other long-range weapons Ukraine has, like Storm Shadow missiles from the UK and France and the HIMARS rocket system from the US.

Israeli-made kamikaze drone destroyed Russian Nebo-M VHF radar in the Nagorno-Karabah conflict.

That’s because ATACMS sent to Ukraine have cluster munitions instead of unitary warheads. Each one contains bomblets that spread and hit multiple targets with one strike. This helps Ukraine get around Russia’s previous strategy to deal with Ukraine’s previous long-range attacks, Bailey said.

Russia used to cluster its equipment, which made it vulnerable initially to HIMARS strikes, he said. But it learned its lesson and began spacing them out, making each hit less effective.

HIMARS strike blew up Russian S-400 missile launcher.

“Ukrainian forces were able to conduct strikes on ammunition depots with HIMARS that were very devastating and forced the Russian command to further disperse those ammunition depots,” Bailey said. Russia “learned from previous mistakes” and was trying to ensure “one strike doesn’t cause many aviation losses.”

But now Ukraine can hit equipment that is spread further apart thanks to the ATACMS cluster munitions. Ukraine can hit “targets where you need to hit a wide range of targets in one location,” said Bailey.

Previously, Ukraine was stuck with a “one-for-one” system: “It would basically have to fire five Storm Shadow cruise missiles to destroy five helicopters.” “Whereas with the cluster munitions, it can destroy several helicopters at an airfield with just one ATACMS.”

Destroyed Nebo-SVU radar. Screen capture from Ukrainian MoD video.

Ukraine said at it expended at least four missiles in the ATACMS strike which took out far more than four targets?. Bailey said Russian commanders now had a new problem to adapt to, and may find it a bigger challenge than when they got used to Ukraine using HIMARS.

S-400 Radar has tracking issues

the S-400 system comes with the Gamma-C1E SHF, Nebo-M VHF, and the Resonance-NE mobile radar station for early warning radars and high-altitude radar coverage. The Russian propagandists claim that these are AESA radar, but these high-frequency antennas were manufactured in the early 2000s. There is nothing solid-state electronics about Russia’s defense industries that would produce AESA radar.

The S-400’s large 92N6E X-band radar has trouble tracking an incoming missile. How well would the tiny seeker-head on 48N6E3 and 40N6 SAMs face? The most common type of missile, the 48N6E series, doesn’t even have active guidance and continues to rely on semi-active radar homing, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage against a ballistic missile (or Hypersonic target) compared to the likes of Patriot’s interceptor with active-guidance and a dual-mode seeker (combining active-homing with ground-based target illumination). None of the S-400’s missiles are known to have dual-mode seekers.

All long-range missiles of S-400 (48N6E & 40N6) suffer from the accuracy problem. A large warhead will not compensate for a missile detonating at significantly longer distances from a ballistic missile (poor accuracy) since the size of the shrapnel cloud doesn’t work well against an incoming ballistic target hardened to withstand re-entry into the atmosphere. It just makes reliably intercepting ballistic missiles far more complex.

Almaz-Antey’s original brochure of S-400’s 92N6E radar has a 185 km tracking range against a 0.4 square meters RCS ballistic target and 340 km for aircraft. That gives an S-400 battery about 65 seconds to engage a Mach 8 class ballistic missile. Claiming S-400 can engage targets at 400 km is entirely misleading and Russian propaganda.

The caveat here is that the 0.4 square meters RCS used by the manufacturer is an unrealistic RCS for ballistic targets or cruise missiles whose RCS ranges between 0.1 to 0.01 square meters RCS depending on the type. This suddenly changes as the 92N6E radar’s range decreases to 180 km and 73 km, respectively.

An interceptor missile is highly dependent on 92N6E multi-function radar rather than Nebo-SVU high-altitude VHF radar. The S-400 system’s 92N6E multi-function radar has between 46 seconds to 25 seconds to engage a short-range ballistic missile and cruise missiles, which, to put it, isn’t great at all.

ATACMS, a new chapter for Ukraine

Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said ATACMS marked a “new chapter of this war” and meant there “are no more safe places for Russian troops” in Ukraine.

Russia’s only real option now, Bailey said, was spreading out assets further and further apart — which comes with major drawbacks. “That’s going to stretch out a lot of the Russian logistics,” he said, which are already “heavily degraded.”

Aircraft being moved back further will make them less helpful for Russia, reducing the amount of time they can spend near the front before having to return to base. The US said the ATACMS it gave Ukraine has a range of around 100 miles. The US did not say how many missiles it sent, or whether it would send more.

Newer versions can travel around 190 miles, though US officials said Ukraine got the older model since the US wants to keep the newer ones for its own reserves. A Ukrainian official said he believes Ukraine will later get the new version, though the US hasn’t committed to that.

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