A salvo of Lockheed-Martin’s long-range missiles fired by Ukrainian forces on Saturday and Sunday broke through Russian air defenses to damage an early warning radar complex near the Crimean city of Yevpatoria, despite the nearby deployment of what is said to be best anti-missile system Russia possesses.

Ukrainian military sources backed by video of the launch and images from the impact area confirmed that at least four US-manufactured ATACMS missiles had punched through Russian air defenses on Sunday morning strikes against an air defense installation on Crimea’s southern coast.

Multiple missiles appeared to have successfully struck near the Crimea village of Vitino, site of a major Russian space forces tracking and early-warning radar installation. Video geo-located to the area showed fires reaching a hundred meters into the sky. Russian mil-bloggers confirmed an air defense site had been attacked and suffered substantial damage and major fires. Some identified the target as the NIP-16 Space Tracking and Deep Space Communications Center.

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The Soviet-era installation contains hulking, office building-sized radar arrays at two sites, one near the village of Vitino and another near the village of Uyutne. The center was constructed in 1958 during the Cold War to track space vehicles and, possibly, ballistic missiles.

Open source images of NIP-16, a Soviet-era space and communications center on the south shore of Crimea. Originally built to track cosmonauts and space vehicles, the site is used by Russia for ballistic missile early warning looking towards the Middle East, Africa and South-west Asia. Ukrainian ATACMS missiles hit the site late on Saturday. It was not possible to determine extent of damage. A grid for the site is: 45.221622, 33.168005. Images from open sources.

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Some Ukrainian news platforms reported missiles hitting a Russian troop base near the villages of Molochny and Uyutne. The UNIAN news agency citing military sources said a “series of explosions had occurred at around 10 p.m. on Saturday.”

Both Russian and Ukrainian sources said Kyiv had fired a second wave of ATACMS missiles about twelve hours later, with multiple sources confirming as many as five Ukrainian missiles hitting around the major Russian military base in Sevastopol at about 10 a.m.

The home port for the Black Sea Fleet, Sevastopol is a critical element of the Kremlin’s military infrastructure and central to the air defense of Crimea. According to Ukrainian intelligence, among other sources, at the heart of that air defense network is a recently deployed battery of S-500 missiles, Russia’s latest air defense weapon.

According to official Kremlin accounts, local air defenses reports intercepted four of five incoming ballistic missiles.

One of the intercepted missiles was knocked off course and detonated a warhead carrying cluster munitions close above a beach thick with civilians, Crimea governor Mikhail Razvozhayev claimed in a statement. Monday news reports put the casualty toll at five dead and at least twelve injured.

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A US Air Force Global Hawk spy plane call sign FORTE 10 heads for home after loitering at ideal data-collection distance from the Russia-occupied Crimea peninsula and Russia’s major naval and ground forces base Sevastopol, from about 06:00 to 21:00 UTC, or fifteen hours. During this time Ukrainian forces hit the Crimea peninsula with at least five and possibly eight US-made ATACMS missiles.

Video from the scene showed panicked beach-goers running inland to escape explosions. Images allegedly recorded in a garden near the beach showed a dirt crater and building damage similar to that caused by a cluster munition’s detonation. The pro-Ukraine Crimea information platform Krymsky Veter published the video.

The loss of life and injuries were the direct responsibility of Washington, which is providing Ukraine weapons to attack Russian civilians, a Sunday Kremlin statement said. The waterfront where the summer vacationers were hit, locally known as Utenovka Beach, is less than half a kilometer from a major Russian ground forces troop and air defense base, and a little more than a kilometer from military wharves used by the warships of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

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According to isolated reports, Russian military sites in Sevastopol’s southern Kazachy Bay may also have been targeted, but a missile strike and damage was not confirmed independently.

Falling debris from a Soviet-era TOR-M2 missile fired in an unsuccessful intercept attempt against an incoming ATACMS struck a populated district in Sevastopol as well, the independent UNIAN news agency reported on Monday. Other reports said Russian air defense units in Sevastopol fired Pantsir missiles – an anti-aircraft weapon not designed to intercept ballistic missiles – at the incoming ATACMS approaching almost vertically at Mach 5 without effect.

Kyiv Post screen grab of Russian social media video geo-located to Vitino village in Crimea. According to local reports the fires were burning at a Russian early-warning radar site built to track Soviet space shots and, possibly, ballistic missiles.

Air space above the Russia-occupied, and heavily militarized Crimea is some of the most densely defended in the world. Since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Kremlin forces have continuously maintained at least two and sometimes three highly potent S-400 heavy air defense systems, along with numerous shorter-range systems.

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Moscow has touted the S-400 as capable of detecting and shooting down aircraft out to a range of 400 kilometers and intercepting ballistic missiles. The actual battle performance of the weapon has not lived up to the advertising, and Ukrainian forces – at times using ATACMS missiles – have since mid-May repeatedly and often effectively attacked S-400 batteries in Crimea.

The Ukrainian campaign to demolish Russian air defenses in Crimea has accelerated in recent weeks with missile strikes targeting S-400 and S-330 launchers taking place June 7, 10 and 12, following new deliveries of US-made ATACMS missiles. On May 24, a six-missile ATACMS raid hit the Russian Air Force’s main radar and air communications center on the south Crimea shore, destroying it. A space observation facility at the site also was hit.

The Kremlin has, according to military analysts, responded to the losses of high-end S-400 launch platforms, radars, control vehicles and support trailers, along with less-capable systems lost in the repeated attacks, by deploying an experimental replacement system for the S-400, called the S-500 Prometheus, to Crimea. The Saturday-Sunday strikes marked the first time US ATACMS could be confirmed to have entered air space defended by a Russian S-500, Kyiv Post researchers found.

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Russian milbloggers in recent weeks have repeatedly called their own government to account for, allegedly, ineffective defense of Crimean air space because of “failure” to take action against American reconnaissance drones flying over international waters in the Black Sea. The US spy planes, in almost all cases a Boeing Global Hawk robot jet, according to those Russian accounts collect precise data on Russian military installations and equipment across Crimea and then Pentagon operators turn over the intelligence to Kyiv.

Unconfirmed Russian social media images of the same fire, reportedly recorded by a Evpatoria resident.

Ukrainian military intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov commented on a June 12 televised interview that Russia had recently deployed their country’s most advanced air defense system, called S-500, to Crimea to protect Sevastopol and military installations around it from attack by ballistic missiles such as the American ATACMS.

Although the US Air Force has flown Global Hawk missions over waters south of Crimea repeatedly since 2014, the first-ever confirmed sortie by the high-tech reconnaissance aircraft into Black Sea air space, simultaneously with major Ukrainian missile strikes against Crimea, was on June 12.

A US Air Force Global Hawk with the call sign Forte10 spent about fifteen hours loitering in Black Sea air space on June 23, some 230-250 kilometers from Sevastopol, and it was in the air well-placed to monitor Russian military activity and communications, when both ATACMS missiles salvoes struck, Kyiv Post review of open source flight tracking data found.

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