Russia fired a nuclear warhead-capable cruise missile into Ukraine, but instead of a nuclear payload, it was installed with a dummy "imitation" warhead, highlighting dwindling precision missile stocks, according to a report by Ukrainian outlet Defense Express on Friday morning.
The Kh-55, also known as X-55, a Soviet missile that was originally developed specifically as a carrier of nuclear weapons, has a range of up to 2,500 km and is launched from bomber aircraft.
The report, shared by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, alleged that at least one old Kh-55 was fired on Tuesday with no nuclear or even jerry-rigged conventional warhead, to satisfy the demands of superiors to launch a certain amount of missiles.
Another possible explanation is that the Russians deliberately used the Kh-55 with a dummy nuclear warhead in order to overwhelm Ukraine air defenses during the mass rocket barrage.
The launch, however, could have been intentional, aiming to "send a message" to Ukraine and its Western allies about a possible nuclear escalation of the war, a threat Russia has repeated many time in the past.
Is Russia running out of missiles?
Defense Express claimed that the decommissioning of a Kh-55 strategic nuclear missile to be used as a conventional tactical weapon was another indication that the Russian military was fast depleting its precision munitions arsenal.
Defense Express, citing its own sources, further said that during the attack on Tuesday, a newer Russian Kh-101, manufactured in the third quarter of 2022, was shot down.
The fact that older missiles are usually fired before newer ones in order to overcome air defenses, giving the newer models a better chance to evade being shot down, may also indicate Russian stocks of missiles are extremely low.
In mid-October, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov claimed that over 200 conventional warhead versions of the Kh-55 such as Kh-555 and Kh-101 had been used by Russia, and only 213 of the missiles remained from the initial 444.
Reznikov further said that only 124 ground-launched missiles out of an initial 900 and 272 Kaliber missiles, which are launched by sea, were left out of an initial 500.
By August, Ukrainian intelligence claimed Russia had used around 55% of its missile stockpiles only six months after it's invasion of Ukraine began.
Meanwhile, three United States officials told CNN on Thursday that there is concern that US stockpiles won't be able to meet Ukrainian demands going into the winter.