Small Wars Journal

Russia’s Shrinking and Deteriorating Arsenal Meets Ukraine’s Growing and Improving Air Defenses

Tue, 01/10/2023 - 6:43am

Russia’s Shrinking and Deteriorating Arsenal Meets Ukraine’s Growing and Improving Air Defenses


By Brian E. Frydenborg Twitter @bfry1981 January 10, 2023


Russia may very well be running out of both its modern long-range missilesespecially its Kalibr cruise missiles and Iskander missilesand artillery rounds, forcing Russia to use degraded munitions from half-a-century ago and well-past their expiration date.  In its desperation, it seems Russia is also getting artillery ammunition from pariah North Korea and is trying, thus far unsuccessfully, to get missiles from Iran (to add to Russia’s current humiliation, not that long ago, Iran and North Korea were under Moscow’s sphere of influence as a partial vassal and a supplicant client state, respectively, an indication of how low Putin has dragged Russia).

To focus more on the issue of these missiles and drones, in the face of being unable to generate any serious lasting major advances for nine months even while Ukraine has undertaken multiple major wildly successful counterattacks on multiple fronts, Russia has resorted in recent months to devoting much of its offensive operations to using these long-range missiles and drones to target civilians in major cities along with their vital power and water infrastructure in the midst of the harsh Ukrainian winter (“offensive” being doubly appropriate here as these attacks are clearly war crimes).  Unable to properly target the Ukrainian military or defeat it on the battlefield, the inferior Russian military instead does what it can do best: target often defenseless civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Except Ukrainian cities and facilities are increasingly not defenseless.  The supposedly mighty Russian Air Force has been cowed and is largely absent and not in a terribly dissimilar way to how I correctly predicted the Russian Navy would be cowed and largely absent, just with air defenses instead of anti-ship missiles, so for longer-range strikes, that is currently leaving Russia with the options of long-range attack drones (it does not have much of its own technology here, so it is getting many of them from Iran, as noted) and missiles.

But over time, the effectiveness of these Russian missile and drone attacks has been drastically decreasing: Ukraine’s frantic calls for more, and better, air defenses have been answered system by system, round by round, contributing country by contributing country, most recently with a pledge by the U.S. to transfer one of its premier missile defense systems, the longer-range Patriot missile system, to Ukraine and to train Ukrainians to use it (this is on top of an earlier delivery in early November of the very same missile defense systems the U.S. uses to protect Washington, DC: the highly-effective NASAMS, part of the reason for the dramatic increase in the effectiveness of Ukraine’s air defenses).  Yet even before this recent announced addition to Ukraine’s air defenses, the decline in effectiveness of long-range Russian attacks has been pretty stark (a sampling below):

  • The October 10 first major missile and/or drone attack in these new rounds of long-range attacks involved 84 Russian cruise missiles, of which 43 were intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses (over 51%), and 24 drones, of which 13 were shot down (over 54%)
  • Let’s jump ahead to Russian strikes on November 15, after the delivery of the U.S. NASAMS to Kyiv: of 96 Russian missiles fired, 77 were shot down (over 80%)
  • On December 5, 60 out of 70 Russian missiles were intercepted (almost 86%)…
  • …and 60 out of 76 on December 16 (almost 79%, lower than several previous averages, but including 37 out of 40 in the Kyiv area, or 92.5% there)…
  • …and 30 of 35 Iranian Shahed drones on December 19 (almost 86%)
  • …and 54 out of 69 (over 78%) cruise missiles on December 28
  • …and 84 out of 84 drones (100%) were shot down over December 31 and January 1

Keep in mind: both the drones and the missiles are from finite, dwindling stockpiles, and Ukrainian air defenses are only growing in quantity and quality, with a U.S. Patriot missile battery on the way and likely more soon after, along with more air defenses from other nations.  That will likely put the intercept rate for Ukraine against Russian long-range air attacks at well over 90%, making such attacks by Russia expensive and wasteful at the same time.

As I have noted before, in a military sense, the main accomplishment of Russian missile and drone strikes of the past few months has been to expose the impotence of Putin and Russia for all to see.

Brian’s Ukraine journalism has been praised by: Mykhailo Podolyak, a top advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; Scott Shane, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist formerly of The New York Times Baltimore Sun (and featured in HBO’s The Wire, playing himself); Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), one of the only Republicans to stand up to Trump and member of the January 6th Committee; and Orwell Prize-winning journalist Jenni Russell, among others.


This article is an adapted and updated excerpt from a much longer article previously published on Brian’s news website Real Context News on December 26 under a different title: Russia-Ukraine War Settles into Predictable Alternating Phases, But Russia’s Losing Remains Constant; see all Brian’s Ukraine coverage here.

Also see Brian’s related eBook, A Song of Gas and Politics: How Ukraine Is at the Center of Trump-Russia, or, Ukrainegate: A “New” Phase in the Trump-Russia Saga Made from Recycled Materials, available for Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook (preview here).


About the Author(s)

Brian Frydenborg has spent two decades studying, writing about, or working in the fields of conflict analysis, counterterrorism, international affairs, public policy, politics, history, and humanitarian aid and international development.  His work has been featured in Newsweek, Jerusalem Post, Modern War Institute at West Point, London School of Economics and Political Science Middle East Centre, Jordan Times, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Real Clear Defense/History, among others.  You can follow him on Twitter @bfry1981 and on his website, Real Context News.