Russia claims downing of Ukrainian Hrim missile, but does it exist? — BBC News Ukraine

The first prototype installation of Hrim-2, also known as the Sapsan missile complex, on the development of which Ukraine worked for almost 20 years
The first prototype installation of Hrim-2, also known as the Sapsan missile complex, on the development of which Ukraine worked for almost 20 years
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In his daily report, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman General Igor Konashenkov mentioned the Hrim-2 missile for the first time among the usual list of "intercepted HIMARS rockets." He did not say where or how the missile was shot down.

The Russian Defense Ministry also did not provide any photo or video evidence.

Commenting on these statements, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov said, "if the Russians are saying this, it means something is happening in their country."

"I don't know who sends them there — Hrim, other things — but believe me: there will be so much Hrim (“thunder” -ed.) that they’ll have nowhere to go," the country’s top security official stated.“And what they have been doing for a year on the territory of our country will all come back (to haunt them).”

Prior to this, neither Ukrainian nor Russian officials had ever said that the Hrim-2 was already built and ready for use. But if this newest long-range system is indeed already in service with the Ukrainian army, it could change a lot in the war.

How Sapsan became Hrim

The Sapsan long-range operational-tactical missile system was supposed to be Ukraine's most powerful weapon. At least, that was the plan 18 years ago under President Viktor Yushchenko, when its development was first announced.

It was to be able to hit a target at a distance of up to 500 kilometers. Moscow is about 480 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. The Sapsan was supposed to combine the properties of multiple launch rocket systems, tactical, and operational-tactical systems.

Work on its creation began in 2005, and the project was scheduled to be completed in 2012, but it was suddenly halted during the presidency of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych in 2013.

The complete curtailment of the Sapsan project was announced by the then Minister of Defense Pavlo Lebedev in June 2013. He is currently on the run and, according to preliminary data, is hiding in the Russian-annexed Crimea.

Read also: Top ten most effective Ukraine-made weapons

No announcement has been made about the project's resumption, although Ukrainian officials have often mentioned the urgent need for Ukraine to have its own long-range missile system.

In fact, the Sapsan did not die, but was reborn as the Hrim-2. Ukraine began producing this shorter-range version of the missile system (280 kilometers instead of 500 kilometers) in 2016 at the request of Saudi Arabia.

In 2018, a prototype of the Hrim launcher was demonstrated.

In February 2021, then-Defense Minister Andriy Taran said that the system was 80% ready and "it is necessary to take the last step" and finalize it.

In March 2023, Taran's successor, Oleksii Reznikov, noted that there is a "realistic plan" to complete the Sapsan/Hrim-2 missile system this year.

"I think there is a very realistic chance. I would call it a plan. I personally have recently been to the production site and inspected certain elements of this program, so I am optimistic about the implementation of this plan."

Moscow's concerns

This project is of undisguised interest to the Kremlin. And this is understandable. Even with a range of only 280 kilometers, this missile system will allow the Armed Forces to hit targets deep in Russia's territory.

There has been speculation that it was the Hrim that the Ukrainian army used to strike the Russian military base in Novofedorivka in Crimea last summer. At the time, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, confirmed that it was a missile strike, but officially Kyiv does not have any systems of this range.

In the fall of 2022, Rezeda Perkova, an engineer at a local design bureau, was detained in Dnipro and accused of spying for Russia. One of her tasks was to find out what stage the development of the Ukrainian Hrim-2 missile system had reached.

In her correspondence with an agent of Russia’s FSB security service, she stated that this missile system was "at the stage of readiness and production of the product" as of the beginning of summer 2022.

Read also: Military expert explains what weapons West can provide to Ukraine and whether it can change the war

At the same time, it should be noted that Russia has struck several times at the enterprises in Dnipro and Pavlohrad where the Hrim-2 is assembled.In its Sept. 30, 2022, report, the Russian Defense Ministry explicitly stated that it had "destroyed the assembly workshops for Ukrainian Hrim-2 tactical missiles on the territory of the Pivdenmash plant" in Dnipro.

All the same, military experts are highly skeptical about the real state of readiness, and even more so the existence of a ready-to-use product.

Mykhailo Zhyrokhov, military historian and analyst, speaking to BBC Ukraine, said that"in fact, in 2019, active work on this project (Sapsan/Hrim) was frozen.”

“There was some funding in 2020-21, which slowly went on and on, but as of 2022, according to my data, only two engines for these missiles were manufactured. This is the main element.”

This was done by Pivdenmash, and the engines were more or less ready, Zhyrokhov said.

But then massive Russian missile strikes began, and Pivdenmash was regularly hit. Was there an opportunity to do something else for this project under such conditions? It is very difficult to say.

First, the project was initially funded with Saudi money. Perhaps some part of the complex was on the territory of Saudi Arabia as of 2022. But this is all "a gamble and a guess".

“Therefore, if the missile was produced, it was in a single copy, and I don't think that right now the Armed Forces have decided to use it, and it is not clear for what purposes,” Zhyrokhov said.

Could there be video and photo evidence of the downing? Very little falls to the ground from a destroyed missile if it was shot down, for example, by S-400 and S-300 missiles. They have a powerful warhead, and the downed object is effectively vaporized. It is very, very difficult to find out what it was by analyzing what fell to the ground. It is practically impossible.

That is, assuming that the Russians really did shoot something down, and they didn't make the whole story up.

“As for the Hrim, it should be noted that to complete its creation, special training grounds and unique equipment are needed.” Zhyrokhov adds.

“This is not the equipment that is available in other countries, it was unique and designed specifically for these engines."

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine