Russian precision-guided missiles are failing up to 60% of the time in Ukraine, three US officials with knowledge of intelligence on the issue told Reuters, a possible explanation for the poor progress of Russia’s invasion.
Since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24, Russia has failed to achieve basic objectives such as neutralising Ukraine’s air force despite a vastly larger armed forces.
The US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information, did not provide evidence to support the assessment and did not disclose what precisely was driving high Russian missile failure rates.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the figures.
Though Reuters could not determine what a standard failure rate would be for air-launched cruise missiles, two experts interviewed by Reuters said any failure rate of 20% and above would be considered high.
The Kremlin says that what it calls a “special military operation” is going to plan and that Russia will achieve all of its aims. It casts the United States as an “empire of lies” which has unleashed an information war on Russia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined immediate comment and suggested Reuters approach the defense ministry which did not immediately respond to phone calls and a written request for comment.
In recent days, Russia’s defense ministry has lauded the professionalism and missile technology of the armed forces. It says claims of failures are misleading propaganda distributed by Russia’s enemies headed by the United States.
US defense officials told reporters this week that the Pentagon assesses that Russia has launched more than 1,100 missiles of all kinds since the war began. The US officials have so far not said how many of those hit their targets and how many failed to do so.
Citing US intelligence, three US officials said the US estimated that Russia’s failure rate varied day-to-day, depended on the type of missile being launched, and could sometimes exceed 50%. Two of them said it reached as high as 60%.
One of the officials said the intelligence showed that Russia’s air-launched cruise missiles had a failure rate in the 20% to 60% range, depending on the day.
Russia has been seen fielding two types of air-launched cruise missiles in Ukraine, the Kh-555 and Kh-101, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank’s Missile Defense Project.
Failures can include anything from launch failures to a missile failing to explode on impact.
The US believes Russia fired air-launched cruise missiles from Russian airspace earlier this month when it attacked a Ukrainian military base near the Polish border, and one of the US officials told Reuters there was a particularly high failure rate during this attack. The strike killed 35 people, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Missile attacks have been a feature of Russia’s invasion, with Russia announcing strikes against military targets including weapons depots.
The invasion has killed thousands and driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes. The bombardment has hit residential areas, schools and hospitals in Ukrainian cities including Kharkiv and the besieged port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
Russia says the operation was necessary because the US was using Ukraine to threaten Russia while Russian speakers were being persecuted in Ukraine. Moscow denies it is targeting civilians.