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Poland's radar was apparently in the picture at all times - but shooting down was impossible

"If it was switched on, the radar should have tracked the course of the flight," says an expert who wishes to remain anonymous.

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Poland's radar was apparently in the picture at all times - but shooting down was impossible

"If it was switched on, the radar should have tracked the course of the flight," says an expert who wishes to remain anonymous. What is meant is a radar installation in Łabunie, Poland, on the border with Ukraine. From there it is only about 40 kilometers to the Polish town of Przewodów, where a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile, probably of the S-300 type, hit NATO territory. Two people died.

When clarifying where the rocket was fired from and whether it was actually used to shoot down an approaching Russian guided missile, airspace surveillance is now coming into focus. Specifically, a radar system with the abbreviation RAT-31DL FDAR.

The combination of letters and numbers conceals one of NATO's most powerful radar systems. RAT stands for "Radar Avvistamento Terrestre", translated from the Italian "down-to-earth reconnaissance radar". Manufacturer is Selex, now part of the Italian Leonardo armaments group. FDAR is the acronym for Fixed Air Defense Radar.

This airspace eye is also available in a mobile version - and the Bundeswehr has it. The radar can identify objects even at a distance of 450 kilometers and record flight targets up to 33 kilometers above sea level. It is a 360-degree all-round search, with the radar rotating around its own axis six times a minute.

Everything indicates that the Polish armed forces were able to follow in real time how the anti-aircraft missile was heading towards its own territory. In addition, an AWAC reconnaissance aircraft with its giant antenna above the fuselage is said to have monitored the airspace in the border area. The region is closely monitored at the latest after the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine.

Shortly after the missile impact in Poland became known, US President Joe Biden stated that it was probably an anti-aircraft missile fired from Ukraine. The evaluation of the radar data was probably quickly available to him. Poland's President Andrzej Duda also agrees with this version. He spoke of an "unfortunate incident".

Ukraine, like the Russians, uses S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, with the Russian armed forces even using the models against ground targets in Ukraine, for which they are not actually designed. The two-stage S-300 rocket was developed in the former Soviet Union and there are several variants. Experts are discussing whether the S-300 upper stage missed its target and therefore flew further than planned or whether there was a malfunction in the approach control radar.

The question of whether Poland itself could have shot down the approaching S-300 also comes into focus. A US Patriot anti-aircraft system is said to be at the gates of the larger Polish city of Rzeszow, roughly 180 kilometers from the site of the impact. But the Patriot missiles only have a range of roughly 70 kilometers.

According to the Polish General Staff, the fatal rocket hit could not be prevented. The task of the anti-aircraft systems is to protect critical infrastructure, reports the dpa news agency. "No army has an anti-aircraft system that protects the entire territory of a country," the military said.

This is reminiscent of the situation in Germany. Before the fall of the Wall, Germany had 36 Patriot fire units. There are currently only twelve that could be used to protect large cities or other so-called high-value targets such as nuclear power plants. Against the background of the Russia-Ukraine war, there are considerations to increase the number of Patriots again.

There has been around-the-clock airspace surveillance over Germany for years. The Air Force speaks of a network of military wide-area radar sensors and civilian air traffic control radars. For example, “all flight movements in German airspace are recorded and identified in the operations control centers. The air situation picture generated in this way is the basis for the use of flying weapon systems.”

In addition to the RAT 31 DL/M mobile radar system, which is used by the German Armed Forces for foreign missions or maneuvers, there are also four fixed military radar systems. For example on the Döbraberg, the highest elevation in the Franconian Forest in Bavaria, in Marienbaum, Erbenkopf and Meßstetten. There, the Bundeswehr uses US radar technology (HADR – Hughes Air Defense Radar).

"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or directly via RSS feed.

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