Several cruise missiles fired from Russian ships at targets in Syria Wednesday crashed in Iran, according to Pentagon officials.
Twenty-six cruise missiles, launched from the Caspian Sea, traveled more than 900 miles over Iran and Iraq before hitting targets throughout Syria, according to a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry Wednesday.
However, according to a senior U.S. defense official who requested anonymity to discuss intelligence matters Thursday, a few of the missiles did not make it to their intended targets.
Reports on Iranian TV indicated that an “unidentified flying object” had crashed and exploded in a village near near the Iranian city of Takab. A number of cows were killed in the ensuing blast.
While it is unclear what made the missiles crash, videos posted on social media showed them flying overhead at low altitude. While it is common for cruise missiles to fly low (to avoid radar detection), it can make traversing mountainous terrain perilous.
The Russian Defense Ministry in Wednesday’s statement however, said that the new Kalibr-NK cruise missiles all hit within nine feet of their intended targets. The strikes landed in Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo provinces, and Russian officials said they destroyed Islamic State positions, including training camps and ammunition depots.
Thursday, the Russian Ministry of Defense also rejected the United States’ claims some of their missiles went off course. According to ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, “all rockets fired from ships found their target.”
The Kalibr cruise missile is a relatively new addition to Russia’s arsenal, and according to IHS Jane’s analyst Jeremy Binnie, Wednesday’s launch was the first time the missile’s 900-plus-mile range had been made public.
While cruise missiles are traditionally used at the beginning of bombing campaigns to hit multiple high-value targets simultaneously while avoiding radar detection and maintaining the element of surprise, Russia’s strikes did none of those things. Instead, Binnie believes, everything that was targeted by the Russian cruise missiles could have easily been hit by other Russian assets within Syria (more than 50 aircraft) or possibly by Russian ships in the Mediterranean Sea.
“I think if you look at what cruise missiles are traditionally used for . . . this isn’t one of those scenarios,” Binnie said. “Russia has been striking the [Islamic State] for more than a week, and the U.S. has been for more than a year.”
Binnie went on to say that the cruise missile strikes were probably a show of Russian military force and technology, noting that the ships that fired the missiles — mostly small missile corvettes — were intended to demonstrate that even the small ships in the Russian navy are stronger than they look.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the smaller ships that participated in the strikes are approximately 230 feet long and their primary weapon is the Kalibr cruise missile. The flagship of the strike group, the Dagestan, is 320 feet long and displaces 2,000 tons.
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