Russian balloons overfly Kiev as part of a new wave of attacks.

Russia reportedly launched 36 cruise missiles on Thursday, a day after six radar-reflecting balloons were spotted above Kiev.

The land and sea-launched missiles killed a woman and damaged vital infrastructure, according to officials.

In an apparent reference to the balloons above Kyiv, the Ukraine has noted a change in Russian tactics, which appears to have been prompted by the balloons.

The majority of the balloons were shot down, according to Kyiv’s military, which added that they were propelled by wind.

Images circulating on social media depict an unsophisticated design consisting of a radar-reflecting, cross-shaped structure dangling from the balloon’s line of suspension.

In recent days, reflector-equipped balloons have also been spotted over the eastern region of Dnipropetrovsk.

The air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat stated that these objects could be carrying radar reflectors and other reconnaissance equipment. “Balloons were launched in an effort to detect and deplete our air defense forces.”

Recently, high-altitude balloons have heightened tensions in both the United States and Ukraine. And earlier this week, Romania dispatched fighter jets when an object resembling a weather balloon was spotted at an altitude of approximately 3,400 meters (11,000 feet) (3,350m). Moldova’s airspace was briefly closed due to the unidentified flying object.

The balloons appear to be an addition to Russia’s aerial use of cruise missiles and less expensive Iranian drones as the first anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine approaches.

The balloons may confuse radar systems and entice the Ukrainian military to launch costly surface-to-air missiles (Sams) at “false targets.”

Given the size and speed of the balloons, the air force spokesman argued that Ukrainian radar was able to correctly identify the objects and, on at least two occasions, bring them down with bullets rather than wasting missiles.

However, the balloons may also serve as decoys. Ukraine continuously scans the skies for Russian aircraft and missiles using ground-based radars, many of which are part of their own Sam systems from the Soviet era as well as West-supplied modern equivalents.

According to the Ukrainian military, the balloons were equipped with reflectors that would entice Ukrainian air defenses to lock on to them.
By “absorb[ing]” as much of this missile defense as possible, the balloons would enable Russia’s fighters, bombers, cruise missiles, and attack drones to strike Ukrainian targets relatively unimpeded.

The concept is to reflect back radar energy from the Ukrainian radars that “paint” the balloons. In high winds and at altitude, the balloons may appear to be real Russian aircraft or helicopters, prompting Ukrainian defenses to engage them.

Andrei Klintsevich, a Russian military expert, stated that Russia was employing the same strategy to defend the bridge across the Kerch Strait to Crimea.

In past conflicts, more sophisticated decoys were used to confuse air defenses. Israel reportedly employed them against Syrian Sams in the Bekaa Valley in 1982 and against U.S. aircraft in Iraq during the opening hours of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Modern Sam systems deployed in Ukraine, such as Nasams, Iris-T, and Patriot, may be able to differentiate between these balloon drones and actual threats. From Russia’s perspective, however, any diversion will be viewed as a worthwhile strategy.

The Ukrainian air force spokesman also noted that the balloons may have been conducting surveillance and would require a comprehensive investigation.

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