Russia Is Building ‘Ghost Bridges’ With Radar Reflectors In Ukraine

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Most would argue that the Russia-Ukraine war is the worst military conflict on European soil since WWII. Crossing points become critical as the Russian and Ukrainian military lock horns in the conflict. For example, to capture and sustain the occupation of Kherson in southern Ukraine, Antonivskiy Bridge and the nearby rail bridge are incredibly crucial. Both of these crossings are over the Dnipro river. But controlling or destroying the bridges is not where it ends; newly obtained satellite imagery reveals that Russian forces have placed a long array of pyramidic radar reflectors in the water near these bridges.

The initial satellite images made the researchers think it was a pontoon bridge being constructed. Later more explicit pictures from The War Zone from Planet Labs show that there is no such bridge but dispersed objects floating astride the channel. Things of the same configuration can be seen on the west side of the nearby rail bridge.

The assumption that these objects are radars was validated when in the last 24 hours, a video released on the internet shows extensive ferry operations alongside the Antonivskiy Bridge. Civilians, military equipment, and supplies can be seen moving over these ferries. What is conspicuous in the video is the fact that one can see pyramidal radar reflectors over the complete breadth and width of the channel. Russia has created phantom bridges alongside both these bridges, or so it appeared in the satellite imagery. As this article is being drafted, more images of the same sight have surfaced.

The Ukrainian forces using the American-supplied M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems started bombarding these bridges over the Dnipro River between 20th – 28th July. Both these bridges are located close to each other and were used for highway traffic and railways. The highway and railway span together to provide a logistical passage from Russian-held Crimea into southern Ukraine and mainly occupied Kherson. Ukraine was encouraged in her resolve to take back the region at whatever cost, especially after her ground forces were supplemented by M31 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) fired by HIMARS and M270 launchers. Ukraine had to take this drastic measure within her territory as the Kherson region has remained under Russian control since more or less the start of the conflict.

People may argue that these radars are not placed for any reason but military. Still, there is a precedent, Russian forces used the same tact to protect her prized $3.5B Kerch Strait Bridge, which connects Crimea and mainland Russia, from aerial attacks. Furthermore, these reflector radars are highly detectable, with radar-guided missiles confusing them for the actual bridge. On a side note, Kerch Bridge is far from the Ukrainian area of influence and therefore has remained safe till now in the ongoing conflict. Also, it is way beyond the range of GMLRS rockets launched from Ukrainian-controlled territory at this time.

Notably, these reflector radars will be of little use against the HIMARS rocket strike as the munitions are not radar-guided. But there is a catch, HIMARS does use a radar-like proximity fusing system. Even still, it seems highly doubtful that it would be impacted, keeping in view its guidance concept that relies on GPS and INS to execute its pinpoint attacks.

However, Ukraine does have radar-guided weapons in her arsenal, which are U.S.-made RGM-84 Harpoon and locally produced Neptune anti-ship missiles. Both of them, however, are not specially configured to operate against land targets. Therefore, even if they were used, they would be questionable.

Keeping the whole argument above in view, it gets tricky to realize why Russia is placing these radars over the Dnipro River. We can think of a few reasons for using all available means to limit Ukrainian surveillance. But, on the other hand, it may also be entirely psychological, look busy, does nothing? Or maybe they have placed the reflectors as a contingency measure, foreseeing that the US may augment Ukrainian land forces with radar-guided weaponry, just in case Russia wants to be prepared for any future onslaught.

Russia is using some out-of-the-box countermeasures for whatever may come of the Ukrainian assault on the Antonivskiy bridges. Nonetheless, we are now positive that the radar reflectors are a go-to measure for Russia to try to protect her assets of the sort.

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