A Ukrainian surface-to-air-missile system shoots a Russian drone out of the sky above the front lines. The Soviet Union designed the 9K33 Osa to down enemy planes and helicopters, but now its use is evolving. Units fire the Osa to intercept drones, the ones the Russians use to locate and fire upon Ukrainian positions.
The crew commander of a unit operating in southeastern Ukraine, who goes by the name "Consul," invited Scripps News to visit the hidden location where they stand by to protect the front-line soldiers of the counteroffensive.
SCRIPPS NEWS' JASON BELLINI: What's the strategic importance of this area that we are in right now?
CONSUL: We wouldn't be here if it wasn't important.
BELLINI: Can you say why it's important?
CONSUL: There is a high intensity of drone flights or enemy aircraft in this sector. Our job is to cover our fellow infantry and artillery from drones.
Consul says he and his unit have downed 60 Russian drones and a Russian aircraft, for which he received a presidential award.
The reason there aren't more Russian fighter jets attacking Ukrainians in the combat zone is units like Consul's.
So critical is their mission, Russian kamikaze drones are constantly searching for the location of Consul and his crew.
Before the full-scale invasion, Consul graduated from law school — thus the call sign. He planned to be a military lawyer. But, with Russia's full-scale invasion, he's more valuable as the commander of Ukraine's 1129 anti-aircraft missile regiment.
Inside the Osa, there's space for the driver and the three unit members who operate the missile system. His team also operates a modern British equivalent, the Stormer HVM, which stands for high velocity missile.
BELLINI: Which is better?
CONSUL: They have completely different target detection systems. Osa is simple, and with it you can find a target faster, but it betrays itself more quickly. The Stormer does not emit a signal, it cannot be detected.
So, using the soviet version trades accuracy for extreme danger to the crew. The western Stormer is a highly valued Russian target. Russians have released video of their successful strikes on Ukraine's Stormers. A drone recently attacked Consul's unit's Stormer.
BELLINI: Did it destroy the Stormer?
CONSUL: The engine is running, it works. We are waiting for some spare parts, we will repair it and then go back into battle.
And with infantry currently at the tip of the spear of the counteroffensive, air defense units like Consul's stand between Ukraine's front-line soldiers and death.
CONSUL: We have to cover our brothers on the front. Where they go — we will go.
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