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Former Air Force commander: Poland had no chance of taking down missile

Brig. Gen. Jaak Tarien.
Brig. Gen. Jaak Tarien. Source: Ardi Hallismaa/mil.ee

For Poland to have been able to neutralize the missile to strike some ten kilometers inland from its border with Ukraine on Tuesday night, it would have had to intervene in Ukrainian airspace already, said Brig. Gen. Jaak Tarien, former commander of the Estonian Air Force. A NATO member state refraining from direct military action, however, couldn't have done so.

In an interview with ERR's Madis Hindre on Wednesday, Tarien said that the S-300 anti-aircraft system is a missile system that was developed in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s.

"It's a sort of midrange plus system — up to 100 kilometers, but with Soviet systems, you never know whether there's reason to believe them or not," he said. "Pretty powerful missiles — 8-10 meters long, just under a meter in diameter, with a 150-kilogram warhead."

The officer noted that anti-aircraft missiles are rarely capable of hitting their target, be it a plane or a cruise missile. "It has to explode near it and generate a cloud of shrapnel that will damage the flying object and prevent it from reaching its target," he explained.

According to Tarien, it's impossible to prevent an S-300 from striking somewhere you don't want it to.

"Not all missiles hit, that much is clear," he said. "Missiles produced in the West should self-destruct in the air before hitting the ground. I don't know whether such a self-destruct [mechanism] is built into the S-300 — it probably is, or else we'd hear more about such incidents. But does it always work? We can say that it's difficult to guarantee 100 percent reliability. Capacitors, for example, will dry out in around a decade, for example."

For Poland to have been able to neutralize the missile to strike Polish territory just inside its border with Ukraine on Tuesday night, killing two, it would have had to intervene in Ukrainian airspace already.

"I'm assuming that Poland doesn't maintain such readiness," he said. "Right now, when NATO states are physically staying out of the Ukraine conflict, Poland had no way of defending itself. In this particular case, there are very few weapons that can hit such a fast moving object. Ten kilometers is such a short distance that you don't have time to react within it anymore."

The truth about the missile to strike Polish soil near its border with Ukraine on Tuesday was revealed thanks to the fact that Poland has located enough radars along its eastern border and as well as the fact that NATO allies also have monitoring instruments in the area, the former Air Force commander claimed.

"We have a pretty good aerial image over the western part of Ukraine," he said. "The missile and its trajectory were likely seen in due course."

'No surprise' missile missed target

Retired Brig. Gen. Urmas Roosimägi, former acting commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), acknowledged that it was no surprise to him either that an S-300 missile would land in the wrong place.

"During Soviet times, I took part in at least 10-20 live fire exercises conducted using medium- and long-range missile systems," he recalled. "Medium-range and long-range anti-aircraft missiles never hit the aircraft; it turns itself and explodes, and then the shrapnel flies toward the target."

Roosimägi, who had also formerly served as commander of Estonia's Air Defense Battalion, said he looked at photos of the missile strike in Poland and said that it was an S-300. They turned on their radars and saw a target. The target approached, they launched an anti-aircraft missile, and that missile didn't hit its target. This isn't an unusual occurrence in anti-aircraft warfare."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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