Images have surfaced of what appears to be the 5P85СМ2-01 launcher of the S-400 missile complex, according to Ukrainian media reports citing these images as the first visual confirmation of the loss of the S-400 missile system.
The launcher in question was first spotted in November last year; however, an OSINT Twitter handle by the name of ‘Ukraine Weapons Tracker’ reported it as the 5P85SM Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) belonging to the S-300PM1/PM2 long-range air defense system.
However, some new images of the same launcher have emerged, based on which Ukraine Weapons Tracker and various other reports concluded that it is the 5P85SM2-01 launcher of the S-400 Triumph air defense system.
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The combat unit of the S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) division comprises eight 5P85TE2 transport launchers (TPUs) on the BAZ-64022 chassis or 5P85SM2-01 launchers on the MZKT-543M chassis.
The destroyed launcher was found near the village of Ilyine in the Zaporizhzhia, located 60 kilometers from the frontline, giving rise to the question of how it was destroyed so far behind the lines.
Reports suggest the loss of the launcher might be because of equipment malfunction, or it could also be the work of Ukrainian scouts.
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Past Ukrainian Claims Of Destroying S-400 System
If true, this would represent the first visual confirmation of the loss of a Russian S-400 component, as so far, there have been several Ukrainian claims of having destroyed the S-400 system, but none of them were backed by solid evidence.
For example, in September last year, the Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed to have destroyed two S-400 launchers and an S-300 radar, among other Russian military equipment, in South Ukraine.
The Operational Command ‘South’ of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) claimed without providing visual evidence or specifying exactly these S-400 launchers were located.
That said, the recent imagery evidence of what is allegedly a destroyed S-400 launcher begs the question of why Russia would need to deploy the S-400 air defense system inside Ukraine.
Considering the S-400’s operational range of up to 400 kilometers and the surveillance range of up to 600 kilometers, the system can operate effectively from well inside the Russian territory.
We had previously asked veteran Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter pilot Squadron Leader Vijainder Thakur what he thought about the alleged presence of S-400 missile launchers inside Ukraine.
“From the Russian point of view, positioning S-400 systems within Ukraine would make no sense – The operational gains would be minimal, but the S-400 systems would become legitimate targets for Ukraine to strike using AGM-88 HARM & HIMARS,” Thakur had said.
However, in July, Ukrainian forces reportedly destroyed a Russian 48Ya6-K1 Podlet-K1 low-altitude radar which is said to be used for the S-400 air defense system.
The Podlet-K1 radar was reportedly stationed in the Lazurne area of the Kherson Oblast, located 50 kilometers south of Hola Prystan, on the coast of the Black Sea. It was probably the first documented instance of the radar’s presence in Ukraine.
So, it would appear that the S-400 launchers in question could have been intended for firing the 9M96E and 9M96E2 ground-to-air missiles, which have ranges of 40 and 120 kilometers, respectively.
Together with the Podlet-K1 radar, which has a maximum detection range between 200-300 kilometers, the 9M96E and 9M96E2 could have been used to destroy low-flying medium-range airborne targets.
When asked about this possibility, Thakur explained that the S-400 is an integrated layered AD system designed to engage a wide spectrum of aerial threats, and it comprises radars, missiles, EW & communication systems, some of which can be operated independently or as part of other systems such as the S-300VM (Antey-2500), that are designed to engage a narrower spectrum of AD threats.
“It’s feasible that components of the S-400 systems are deployed in liberated Ukraine,” he said.
However, in another report, Thakur explained to the correspondent that it is wrong to conclude that a weapon system is worthless if struck in combat.
Nevertheless, for Ukraine, this would be an extensive PR win against Russia, as it represents the alleged destruction of Russia’s most advanced and fearsome air defense system, which has also been exported to other countries like China, Turkey, and India.