The kyiv sky turned into a terrifying spectacle in the early hours of January 1 and 2.
Low-altitude explosions, searchlights searching in the dark, the hiss of missiles and the flash of high-calibre bullets confirmed to the citizens of the Ukrainian capital that Russia would continue its spiral of destruction in 2023.
However, for any military analyst, those long hours were a full-scale lesson in how to adapt a country's defense to drone-dominated air warfare.
More than 80 Shahed drone bombs were fired by Russia on the nights of January 1 and 2, according to the Ukrainian Air Force.
Only two hit their targets, early Monday morning.
A power substation and dozens of homes were damaged in kyiv.
The Russian bombing concert to
The new year began on the afternoon of December 31, with a dozen cruise missiles aimed at the capital, three of which hit the city.
The effectiveness of the Ukrainian air defense network is very high, it has NATO weapons and also Soviet systems, especially the S-300 surface-to-air missiles.
According to the Ukrainian General Staff, 80% of the drones are shot down, and more than 70% of the missiles.
Perfection is not possible because Russia attacks in waves of multiple projectiles and one ends up breaking all defense barriers.
Last minute of the war in Ukraine, live
Russia is massively using the Shahed bomb drones supplied by Iran.
Its production cost is between 20,000 and 50,000 euros, well below the cost of the cruise missiles that Russia fires from its territory or from the Black Sea, which range at least between 250,000 and one million euros.
The pecuniary is not the only reason for Moscow's commitment to the Shahed: it is also the reduction of its own manufacturing capacity for these precision rockets due to the sanctions and the embargo against Russian industry.
Russian bombardments far from the front have been recurring since last spring, at the same time as the progressive retreat of their troops in the territory they had conquered.
The irruption of the Iranian bomb drones was in the summer, but it was not until the current phase of massive attacks, which began last October with the energy network as the main objective, when their use became a priority for the Kremlin.
Russian cruise missiles, like the Kh-101 and Kh-55, fly close to the speed of sound—the Kalibr can beat it—and have maneuverability that makes them harder to shoot down than the Shahed.
These do not change their trajectory, except when almost plummeting on the target, and they fly at only about 170 kilometers per hour.
But the drones have an additional reason in the Kremlin's plan: They serve to deplete Ukraine's arsenal of surface-to-air missiles, largely supplied by its NATO allies.
This was confirmed by Volodimir Zelensky himself, President of Ukraine, in one of his speeches this week.
kyiv's diplomatic strategy has focused in the last six months on obtaining the transfer of surface-to-air missile defense systems from its allied countries.
This armament has taken part in the defense of the capital in the first days of 2023. At least one of the two Nasams batteries on Ukrainian territory, Norwegian and American-made, is located in kyiv.
Washington has pledged to provide six more.
The most developed air defense system in operation in the city is the German IRIS-T.
Unlike this one, the four Hawk batteries transferred by Spain to Ukraine —at the request of the United States— are old weapons, produced in the 1960s.
Radar, visual and audible detection
The Ukrainian air defense structure is complex due to the variety of technological systems used and their permanent mobility to avoid being canceled by the enemy.
There are different lines of radars and antiaircraft batteries in the country's geography, coordinated by territorial commands.
Also important, as military units on the Ukrainian border with Russia and Belarus explained to this newspaper last October, is the visual detection of drones, which fly at a lower altitude to avoid radar.
This is confirmed to EL PAÍS by Yuri Ihnat, spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, and Viktor Tregubov, captain who is an expert in communications.
Tregubov adds that auditory detection of the Shahed is also frequent, due to the characteristic noise they make, similar to a moped.
kyiv also has
Since last October, when a wave of drones entered Ukrainian airspace, the command points mobilized mobile units along its path armed with portable rocket launchers, soldiers armed with large-caliber automatic rifles and, above all, anti-aircraft vehicles equipped with automatic cannons.
Among the latter, the 30 German Gepard tanks stand out, with two cannons with 35-mm ammunition, which were identified on the first nights of the year in kyiv with their bullets crossing the sky in parallel.
Several Ukrainian soldiers pose on December 16 next to the remains of a missile that they claim to have shot down with the machine gun in the photo next to one of the power plants that supplies Kiev with energy.Luis De Vega
Experts recommend that Ukraine strengthen these defense barriers that do not rely on surface-to-air missiles.
The reason is the cost of the ammunition.
In a study by the Ukrainian University of Environmental Sciences published in September by the
Political Science and Security Studies Journal
, enlightening data was provided: if a Shahed costs about 20,000 euros, a surface-to-air missile does not fall below 250,000 euros.
On the other hand, the missile of a portable rocket launcher, like that of the famous American Stinger, has a price of 60,000 euros.
In a report last December, experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS, an institute in the United States) Mark Cancian and Tom Karako indicated that the missiles of a Patriot system cost four million dollars [about 3.8 million euro].
“Firing a $4 million missile at a $250,000 Russian cruise missile may be justified if those missiles were aimed at significant targets.
Firing a $4 million missile at a $50,000 Iranian Shahed drone, probably not."
The Shahed, at low altitudes, are easier to intercept, as demonstrated last October in a video that went viral showing three kyiv policemen shooting down one of these drone bombs with their rifles.
In Ukraine, cheaper and short-range systems are being rapidly introduced to stop these unmanned devices, such as other drones that intercept them in flight without the need for weapons.
Meanwhile, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a British center for security studies, published a series of urgent recommendations for the Ukrainian Air Force, such as reinforcing "in large numbers" the number of portable rocket launchers, fixed automatic rifles of large caliber and cannon vehicles such as the Gepard, the Lvkv90 and the Skyranger.
RUSI also calls for NATO to supply air-to-air missiles for Ukrainian fighters, cheaper ammunition than surface-to-air ones because they do not need to start from the ground.
The United States has so far been reluctant to supply Ukraine with fighters and aerial weapons for two reasons: because the Russian anti-aircraft force, like the Ukraine, can also shoot down these planes, and because of fear that its missiles will be used to hit the ground. Russian.
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