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Analysis: S-300 missile that crashed in Poland launched by Ukraine or Russia?

After the crash of the S-300 missile in Poland, Army Recognition editorial team makes an analysis of the 5V55 missile - which is launched by the Russian-made S-300 air defense system -, and explains, with an independent opinion, whether it is a Russian or a Ukrainian missile discovered on the crash site.
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Picture of a Russian-made 5V55 missile with the wreckage of the S-300 missile found in Poland (November 2022) and in Ukraine (August 2022) (Picture source: Russian website)

According to military sources, the Ukrainian armed forces use three types of S-300 air defense missile systems including the S-300P/ PS / PT (NATO code-named SA-10 Grumble). On April 8, 2022, the Ministry of Defense officially confirmed that the Slovak Republic provided Ukraine with S-300 PMU air defense systems, the export variant of the S-300 PM. New missiles were developed for the S-300PM system: the Fakel 48N6, and the 48N6E.

The S-300 is also in service with the Russian armed forces using new modernized versions including S-300 PMU1 and S-300 PMU2 Favorit (NATO designation SA-20B Gargoyle B), introduced in 1997, is an upgrade of the S-300PMU1, with its range-extended once again to 195 km with the introduction of the 48N6E2 missile. The system is apparently capable to intercept not just short-range ballistic missiles, but now also medium-range tactical ballistic missiles.

The S-300P/PS/PT air defense systems are able to launch the 5V55, while the S-300PS and S-300PT can launch two improved variants of the 5V55 missile. The 93 km extended range 5V55KD was supplemented with the 5V55R, the latter using a Track Via Missile (TVM) semi-active seeker similar in concept to the U.S.-made MIM-104 Patriot seeker.

The 5V55 missile has a radiofrequency-based guidance system and a maximum speed of approximately Mach 5.5. The 5V55 missile is armed with a warhead of a high-explosive type. The 5V55 missile is deployed and handled in a sealed cylindrical launch tube/canister, with a cold start gas generator used to eject the missile vertically before its motor is initiated. The missile is equipped with a guidance system to automatically fly and hit its target.

The 5V55 missile consists of a 0.51m diameter cylinder with the engine at the end and four directional blades (winglets) mounted at the rear of the missile. While the 5V55 missiles are similar in terms of appearance, they differ in effective ranges and intercept speeds.

The 5V55 missiles family uses a high-explosive fragmentation warhead triggered by proximity and impact fuses to destroy their targets. The 5V55K has a maximum effective range of 47 km while the 5V55R and 48N6 have 75 km and 150 km ranges respectively. Like several modern missiles, the S-300 features a self-destruction mode that can be triggered in case of an error or missed target. Citing military expert, the S-300 missile that hit the farm in Poland on Tuesday, November 15, 2022, killing two people, may have self-destructed before impact.

S 300 missile that crashed in Poland launched by Ukraine or Russia 925 002
Ukrainian S-300P SAM launchers during the Independence Day parade in Kiev, Ukraine in 2008. (Source picture Wikimedia)

On November 15, 2022, Russia launched several missiles against Ukraine, and in fact, the S-300 is a surface-to-air missile designed for air defense and does not have the capability to strike land targets. However, in July 2022, a Ukrainian official claimed that Russia is using its S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles to strike land targets.

The Russians would have modified the S-300 missiles with a GPS navigation system. The Russian army has long been testing the capabilities of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system to destroy ground targets but the missile showed poor accuracy. According to the Russian military, the missiles can be used to destroy headquarters, radar stations, and hangars at a distance of up to 120 kilometers when launched on a ballistic trajectory.

Due to the Russian missile attacks on Tuesday, 15, 2022, Ukrainian armed forces have launched several missiles including maybe old versions of S-300 missiles. Citing a military expert, the stock of S-300 missiles used by the Ukrainian armed forces could be 20 to 25 years old. If the fired missile misses or loses its target within a certain time limit, the missile will self-destruct in the air. So, it is possible that the age of the missile caused its failure and made it crash in Poland.

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