A Ukrainian military commander has detailed how he says his brigade shot down one of Russia’s most modern ballistic missiles using a US Patriot air defense system.
Ukraine says its defenses successfully intercepted six of the Russian Kinzhal missiles on May 16.
Commander Serhii Yaremenko and his 96th Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Air Command Center were at the heart of the defense, though they didn’t realize until later they had defeated one of Russia’s toughest weapons, he said in an interview Thursday.
“Frankly speaking, I realized that we had shot down the Kinzhal only after expert analysts examined the wreckage,” Yaremenko told Army Inform, a Ukrainian defense ministry website.
When Russia launched its assault, “Sixteen ballistic targets flew from different directions, most of them aimed at the Patriot system,” the commander said, referring to the powerful US-provided missile defense system.
“They did not panic for a second, acted in a coordinated and organized manner, shared targets across sectors, and ensured their destruction at a minimum range, high enough to reduce the likelihood of damage to infrastructure.”
Yaremenko said the Ukrainian fighters were emotional when all the targets had finally been destroyed and the airspace declared clear. Later they learned there were six Kinzhals among the assault.
The grueling defense proves the Patriot system’s value to Ukraine, holding its own even against weapons Moscow has positioned as impossible to combat, Yaremenko said.
More on the Russian missiles: The Kinzhal, or Kh-47, has been touted by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military as an example of Moscow’s modernized missile arsenal, claiming that its hypersonic speed makes it extremely difficult to intercept. An air-launched ballistic missile, the Kh-47 has a range of some 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), so it can be fired far from the battlefield.
It travels at about 10 times the speed of sound and is derived from the shorter-range Iskander ballistic missile, which is ground-launched. It carries a warhead of nearly 500 kilograms (about 1,100 pounds).
Attack on the Patriot: The Russian Ministry of Defense claims it destroyed a US-made Patriot air defense system in Kyiv during the May 16 assault, despite Ukraine saying it destroyed all Russian missiles in the early morning attack.
US officials inspected the system and said damage was “minimal,” CNN reported. It was not clear whether the system was damaged by an actual missile strike or falling debris.
The Patriot has a powerful radar to detect incoming targets at long range, making it a potent air defense platform capable of intercepting ballistic missiles and more. But the radar emission necessary to spot threats at a distance also makes it possible for the enemy to detect the Patriot battery and figure out its location.
CNN’s Tim Lister, Natasha Bertrand, Oren Liebermann and Jim Sciutto contributed to this report.