Ukraine used locally adapted Soviet-era drones to strike two Russian bases hundreds of miles from its border, demonstrating a lethal new capacity for Kyiv that primarily relies on imported Western weapons to counter Russian war of aggression.
According to the Politico report, citing two people with knowledge of the Ukrainian operation, the drones used in the strike were modified Tu-141 surveillance aircraft from the Soviet era. Even while Russia is constrained to purchase inexpensive Iranian drones to carry out its air war, the changes demonstrate the Ukrainian defense industry’s capacity for innovation.
Strikes on the air bases of the Russian Federation seem to have started to be carried out systematically. On December 5, a strike on “Engels” and “Dyagilevo” in the very “heart” of the strategic aviation of the Russian Federation was carried out. On December 6, an attack on the airfield in Kursk and the oil depot of the state reserve of the Russian Federation in the Bryansk region was done.
Mysterious long-range weapons hitting Russian airfields
The main question, of course, is what weapons were used for these attacks. Because it seems that this list should also include the attack on air bases in the occupied Crimea, which resulted from successful missile strikes of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which was officially reported.
Also, attention is drawn to the fact that the Russian invaders constantly note that Ukrainian drones carried out the strikes.
Video of an aircraft coming to the Russian air base
An informative video of the attack on the Engels air base can help. Firstly, it is geolocated with an accuracy of one meter. Secondly, it shows the flight of a jet aircraft and the moment of the explosion, the Defense Express reported.
The video was shot from the entrance of a residential building in the city of Engels (Stroiteley Ave., 47, bldg. 1, p. 2); it is only 5.5 km to the middle of the site where Russian Tu-95MS and Tu-160 are located.
It takes about 25 seconds from the sound of the aircraft flying over to the explosion. Of course, we do not know the trajectory of the flight and the distance from the plane and the explosion site to calculate a deviation in the speed of sound propagation. Still, it is possible to approximate the drone’s speed from 220 m/s or 792 km/h. We are talking about an aircraft with a jet engine capable of flying at high speed at a low altitude.
“Reis” and “Strizh” drones
Converted for strikes, Soviet reconnaissance UAVs Tu-141 “Strizh” and Tu-143 “Reis” are currently seen as the most likely candidates for the position of long-range weapons that hit Russian air bases.
The Russian Federation has long been complaining about the Reis, particularly at the level of governors of border regions, and their wreckage has been repeatedly photographed. For example, it is known about the attack of such UAVs on the Millerovo air base in the Rostov region.
Soviet reconnaissance UAVs transformed into kamikaze drones
Transforming Soviet reconnaissance UAVs looks more than a logical decision. These drones of the 70s are jet-powered, reach a transonic speed of 950-1100 km/h, and can fly at low altitudes of up to 10 meters.
Tu-143 “Reis” flight range is up to 200 km, and Tu-141 “Strizh” is up to 1000 km. The weight of reconnaissance equipment, including film cameras, is more than 100 kg. And given the possibility of dismantling the parachute, it is possible to release even more payload.
Also, we should not exclude that these Soviet drones could receive new navigation equipment for more accurate strikes, which they actively demonstrate. That is, we are talking about turning these Soviet UAVs into accurate ground-launched cruise missiles. Before the all-out war, the Tu-141 “Strizh” and Tu-143 “Reis” were considered as just targets for air defense training.
It is worth mentioning that the American newspaper Breaking Defense on November 18 reported, citing its source, that for the missile attack on the air bases in the occupied Crimea, the strikes were set: “an obsolete weapon system that had been upgraded for a role different from that for which it was originally designed.”
And this definition best fits the converted Tu-141 “Strizh” and Tu-143 “Reis.”
Kamikaze drone from “Ukroboronprom”
There is also an opinion that the kamikaze drone, which Ukroboronprom actively promotes, Ukraine’s state-owned weapons maker, is behind the strikes. They say that the range of this drone is 1000 km, and the warhead’s weight is 75 kg. In November, the project manager of Ukroboronprom revealed new details about this weapon.
As it turned out, 75 kg is the total weight of the payload, and 1000 km is a theoretical figure because no engine was chosen for this drone. Moreover, this drone is created not as a kamikaze drone but as a “multifunctional platform,” It can be both a barrage munition and a reconnaissance UAV.
The mysterious and deadly weapon
Of course, another rather attractive option is a new development, about which more is needed. And the nature of the strike now suggests using cruise missiles – high-speed low flight profile.
And in addition to the transformation of “Strizh” and “Reis” into such weapons, there is an option that such cruise missiles were created and brought to mass production in Ukraine in a reasonably short time.
Moscow officials keep talking about “drones” because the Kremlin is afraid to admit that Ukraine has independently developed and launched a series of cruise missiles that can break through the air defense of the Russian Federation and hit strategic targets.
Ukraine can hit military targets deep inside Russia
The attack by Ukraine also highlights how well Kyiv can hit military targets located far inside Russia while fending off a missile bombardment launched by the Kremlin on civilian facilities.
Additionally, it makes us wonder if Ukraine can carry out other attacks of this nature in the coming weeks.
For months, Ukraine has asked its Western partners for long-range missiles and drones. Still, the U.S. and Europe have so far declined to comply out of concern that they would be used to launch attacks against Russian territory.
Without further funding to improve its long-range capabilities, Ukraine may need to continue using the modified drones.
The Russian government said last week that the strikes resulted in the deaths of three Russian service members and damage to two airplanes. However, it refused to say what caused the damage. According to the sources, the airplane’s technology was manufactured in Ukraine and not by any Western country.
The strikes damaged two Tu-95 heavy bombers
The strikes at Engels air base damaged two Tu-95 heavy bombers, according to an assessment by the British Ministry of Defense. Suppose Russia views the incidents as deliberate attacks. In that case, it will likely view them as some of the most strategically significant force protection failures since its invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian official mocked Moscow
Ukraine has yet to take responsibility for the strike. However, Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential adviser, appeared to mock Moscow in a statement on Twitter following the attacks. In response to a tweet, he wrote: “If something is launched into another country’s airspace, sooner or later, unidentified flying objects will return to their departure point,” he wrote.
Even without long-range drones and ammo, Ukraine can inflict significant damage on the Russian military. At least eight fighter planes were either destroyed or severely damaged when several explosions occurred in August at Russia’s most extensive air base in the occupied Crimea, as seen on satellite images of the runway.
Russia is losing a full-scale war it started and now has no choice but to acknowledge this.