Ukrainian troops train for missile launches near Crimea
Kiev has conducted tests of units manning the BM-21 ‘Grad’ system, a Soviet-designed, truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher, near its southern border with Crimea, according to an announcement by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
On Friday, officials stated that personnel had moved the weapons to Kherson Oblast, just north of the disputed peninsula. Once the Grad systems had been delivered to the testing range, troops conducted exercises designed to practice using the rocket launchers to destroy enemy forces and equipment, without conducting launches.
According to the statement, the weapons completed the tests successfully.
The Grad system (the name translates to ‘Hail’) has been in service since 1963 and saw its first combat use in 1969 during the Sino-Soviet border conflict. It is a truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher capable of shooting volleys of missiles, and its design has been copied by several other countries since its invention.
On January 13, the Armed Forces of Ukraine announced that troops had been conducting exercises in the same region using the 9K33 Osa, a mobile, low-altitude, short-range surface-to-air missile system developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s.
The drills come as Kiev and the US have been warning for months that they fear Russia is planning an invasion of its neighbor in the near future, an allegation that Moscow has repeatedly denied. Western officials have cited reports of Russian troop movements near its border with Ukraine. The Kremlin has said that it is simply moving forces within its own territory, and that it has no aggressive intentions.
This week, Russia announced that it was sending soldiers and equipment, including the anti-air S-400 rocket system, into Belarus for upcoming joint military exercises. The US State Department warned that this could be a sign that Moscow is preparing for war, saying, “we are very alert to everything that Russia is doing.”