This US Navy handout photo released, 17 March 2003, shows US Navy Aviation Ordnancemen assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron Two Five (VFA-25) preparing to hoist an Air Launched Guided Missile Eighty Eight (AGM 88) " HARM" missile onto a wing of an F/A-18C Hornet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), 14 March 2003, in the Persian Gulf. Lincoln and Carrier Air Wing Fourteen (CVW-14) are conducting combat operations in support of Operation Southern Watch. Foto: Philip A. Mcdaniel dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

It is still unclear exactly how the explosions at the Saki military base in Russian-occupied Crimea came about. Ten fighter jets are said to have been destroyed, and British intelligence sees the Russian air force as significantly weakened.

Ukraine is keeping a low profile for good reason. Because Russia’s uncertainty about what happened, military experts see as a not inconsiderable advantage.

At the same time, the suspicion that the nature of the explosions could have been a Ukrainian attack with surface-to-surface missiles is confirmed. Images from the independent satellite company Planet Labs show three nearly identical craters. The buildings in Saki were also hit precisely.

Since the military base is a good 200 kilometers from the front, one question in particular arises: what missiles could Ukraine have used? Because the multiple rocket launchers from Western production currently have a maximum range of 80 kilometers.

Investigating how Ukrainians could attack such a distant target, experts quickly noticed a new weapon system that is being developed in Ukraine, but has not yet been used.

Since 2003, Kyiv has been working on a launch system for short-range missiles with a range of up to 500 kilometers; the latest type of weapon is known as the Grom-2. The system is intended to be a successor to the Toschka U, which dates back to the Soviet era. The Ukrainians benefit from the fact that the country has been a center of missile production and the associated launch systems for decades and has the relevant know-how.

So far it was said that Grom-2 would be ready for use in 2022 at the earliest. So that would fit. A prototype was also shown at a military parade in Kyiv. Currently, however, there should only be one prototype with two rockets (source here). The airport in Crimea would have been a worthwhile target for the weapon.

The New York Times quoted an anonymous Ukrainian official on Tuesday as saying a weapon “made exclusively in Ukraine” was used in the attack.

However, the Grom-2 can only be used effectively in conjunction with so-called anti-radar missiles – for example the AGM 88 Harm type, which the USA recently delivered to Ukraine. They perceive the signals of enemy radars and then destroy them in a targeted manner. Even turning off the radar is useless once the missile has locked on to the target. Without a hole in the anti-aircraft defenses, the Grom-2 missiles would most likely be intercepted.

If it was actually a Ukrainian missile attack, anti-radar missiles would also play a central role, according to military expert Gustav Gressel. Their mere presence could have ensured that Russia had put a large part of its radar systems “on standby” before the hits in Crimea, he explained on “ZDF”.

“If only one radar is active instead of four or five, then it depends on that one radar operator whether or not he detects a missile attack.” According to Gressel, taking countermeasures is “a decision of seconds”. If you miss this moment, the damage would of course be enormous, Gressel outlines a possible attack scenario. The fact that Russia is setting up dummy radar also indicates that there are problems with air defense.

But what would be the consequences for the further course of the war? Should Ukraine actually have missiles with a significantly longer range, weapons depots, railway junctions and other infrastructure points far away on Russian territory would suddenly also be possible targets. However, the question remains why Ukraine is only now using this weapon. There have already been worthwhile targets far away.

The Russian side must now think about how to protect their central military points, for example with anti-aircraft systems, Gressl explained. Moscow could also further decentralize logistics, dissolve large camps and distribute them among many small ones in order to make itself less vulnerable. As he describes the dilemma, however, this would significantly slow down the supply of troops at the front.