Russia tried to destroy a US-made Patriot air defense system in Ukraine last week with a hypersonic missile, two US officials told CNN.
The attack failed, and the Ukrainian military instead intercepted the missile using the Patriot system, the officials said, marking their first known successful Ukrainian use of the advanced air defense system only weeks after it arrived in country.
The Ukrainian air defenders fired multiple missiles from the Patriot at different angles to intercept the Russian missile, demonstrating how quickly they have become adept at using the powerful system, one official said.
US officials believe the Russians picked up on signals that are emitted from the Patriot, allowing them to target the system using the hypersonic missile, known as the Kinzhal or Killjoy.
The Patriot missile system 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. And unlike some shorter-range air defenses provided to Ukraine that are mobile and harder to target, the large Patriot battery is a stationary system, making it possible for the Russians to zero in on the location over time.
There are ways to camouflage those signals to some extent, officials said, but the Russian military was evidently able to figure out the rough location of the Patriot stationed outside of Kyiv. The interception took place there on the night of May 4, Mykola Oleshchuk, commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, said last weekend.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has previously said that the Patriots would “definitely” be a legitimate target for Russian forces.
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder confirmed earlier this week that the Ukrainians had used the Patriot system to intercept the Kinzhal, which can reach hypersonic speeds.
Ukraine has received at least two Patriot systems, one from the United States and one from Germany, to enhance its air defenses, which have previously been unable to intercept more modern Russian missiles such as the Kinzhal.
When the US first announced it would send Patriot missile systems into Ukraine, the timeline for delivery was months, given the complexity of the system and the need to train dozens of Ukrainian troops on how to operate the battery, which has multiple components. But the Ukrainians were already well versed in the use of air defense systems, allowing the US to compress the standard training program of approximately one year into several months.
The final check of the Patriot systems took place in mid-April, where US, German, and Dutch trainers joined Ukrainian service members for a last inspection of the systems before they were shipped into Ukraine soon after.