Ukraine Deploys Ballistic Missiles Against Russian Su-30SM Airfield - Reports

The Ukrainian armed forces have reportedly begun deploy SS-21 Tochka tactical ballistic missiles against Russian forces, a day after Russia initiated military operations in Ukraine on the morning of February 24. According to Western and Russian sources, the target was a Russian military airfield around 15km from the Ukrainian border, although it remains uncertain how many missiles were fired, whether they hit their targets, or the extent of the damage if any. The military facility targeted hosted two squadrons Su-30SM heavyweight fighters deployed under the 31st Guards fighter aviation regiment. The base falls under the Russian Military’s Southern Military District. The Su-30SM, alongside the Su-34 strike fighter, is one of the most widely fielded Russian fighters in service, and is considered likely to have played an important role in the air campaign in Ukraine. The missile is derived from the same airframe as the Su-27S Flankers in the Ukrainian Air Force, but technologically is 25 years ahead with overwhelming advantages in sensors, avionics, construction materials, range and armaments. Unlike the Su-27, the Su-30SM was designed with a standard twin seat configuration and with avionics optimised to air to ground and anti shipping roles as well as air to air combat, with the second seat accommodating a weapons systems officer. 

Although considered out of date by the 1980s compared to more modern Soviet tactical missile designs, the Tochka was the only one the survive arms reduction treaties of the 1980s and was inherited in considerable numbers by Russia and Ukraine. The Russian Military has since phased the missiles, alongside the longer ranged Scud missiles, out fo service in favour of the much more capable Iskander platform. The Tochka has recently seen use only in Syrian service, where it was used in 2021 to target Turkish-backed jihadist militants illegally appropriating oil for dispatch to Turkey, with Syria also deploying an improved North Korean derivative the KN-02 Toksa. The Soviet Tochka missile is the only one with a ballistic trajectory in Ukrainian service, and uses a solid fuel composite facilitating a short launch time. Its lack of manoeuvrability or other modern countermeasures against interception, and its short 185km range, remain major shortcomings particularly against Russia’s multi-layered air defence network. 

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