For the second night in a row, Ukrainian drones have struck deep inside Russia to hit airbases for Russia’s strategic bomber fleet. These attacks are in response to the months-long cruise missile assault on Ukraine’s civilian electrical and water infrastructure launched by bombers from those bases.
Sunday night, drones struck airfields at the Engels airbase complex near Saratov and damaged one or more Tu-95 “Bear” strategic bombers. The Dyagilevo airbase, less than 100 miles from Moscow’s suburbs, was also hit, damaging one or more Tu-22 “Backfire” or Tu-160 “Blackjack” strategic bombers. The Engels airbase is 400 miles from Ukrainian territory, and the Dyagilevo airbase is over 300 miles. Monday night, the airfield a Kursk, some 80 miles from the Ukrainian border, was struck, leaving the tank farm ablaze.
Location of Attacks
Images from Engels airbase complex
DEEP STRIKE: @Euan_MacDonald has posted this video from Russia’s Engels Airbase. Recorded just prior to UKR’s ‘drone' strike, a jet engine can plainly be heard passing. It is increasingly likely that UKR used a modified ex-Soviet Tu-141 reconnaissance drone in this attack. https://t.co/zpxQr0Dr7g
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) December 5, 2022
Aftermath if the alleged Ukrainian strike at the Engels airbase, Dec 4th/Dec 6th @planet images comparison. Several fire trucks and a foam beneath Tu-95 is clearly visible (also I'd say some craters, but I'm not 100% sure). pic.twitter.com/EkJMKKzpdY
— Mark Krutov (@kromark) December 6, 2022
Images from Dyagilevo airbase complex
First satellite images and pictures from Dyagilevo airbase (Ryazan region) appeared online. Reportedly it was also attacked by a drone.
Hypersonic TU planes appear to be damaged. Casualties reported. pic.twitter.com/s474Rbr3n8
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) December 5, 2022
— Observer (@44Observer4) December 5, 2022
Satellite photos from @ImageSatIntl showing the aftermath of the attack on the Russian Dyagilevo airbase today. The photos show burn marks near a Tu-22M3 bomber. H/t @manniefabian pic.twitter.com/582vhK2xLg
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) December 5, 2022
Images from Kursk airbase
#Kursk airfield in Russia goes up in flames after alleged '#drone attack'
An oil tank was reportedly on fire on the airport – and the blaze was said to still be raging more than ten hours after the attack.
— Igor Fedorovsky (@IgorFedorovsky) December 6, 2022
The suspected weapon is a modified reconnaissance UAV, but that is speculative at this stage.
DIY CRUISE MISSILES: On 5 DEC, Ukraine is believed to have used modified Soviet-era recon drones to attack he Engels-2 and Dyagilevo airbases in Russia. Tu-141s UAVs, fitted with updated GPS navigation systems and improvised warheads, flew 600 miles to hit these targets. pic.twitter.com/jkRfA8z6Xk
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) December 6, 2022
In my opinion, I think it is better than 50-50 that the Kursk attack, based on the range from Ukraine and the damage inflicted, is a special operations mission rather than a long-range drone strike. In early November, Ukrainian special forces raided a Russian airbase some 400 miles from Ukraine (but only 20 miles from Latvia), destroying or damaging four Russian helicopters (Putin’s War, Week 36. Russian Mobilization Ends, Ukrainian Commandos Strike Deep Inside Russia, and What the Heck Is Happening in Kherson?).
There are, in my view, a lot of moving parts here.
There seems to have been a small number of weapons used; at Dyagilevo, only one was in evidence. While I’m sure there is a shortage of these weapons, I also suspect the number available is greater than two. My assessment is that the Ukrainians were sending a message to Russia that the continued use of its strategic bomber force to attack civilian targets made that force fair game for a counterattack.
The attacks were a political blow to the Russian regime. Those weapons flew undetected through several hundred miles of Russian airspace and hit high-value aircraft that are part of Russia’s nuclear triad at very secure airbases. No air raid alert was sounded. No interceptors were scrambled. There was no response by air defense missile batteries. To say that Russian social media went batsh** crazy is an understatement with as much anger directed at the Russian military as there were demands to nuke the subhumans in Ukraine. This was a slovenly performance even by the incredibly low bar of competence set by the Russian military over the last 9-plus months.
I think that this attack also has to be seen as a message to Washington. Ukraine has been campaigning to get the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. This system, launched from the HIMARS or the M270 MLRS, which are already in service in the Ukrainian Army, has a range of 190 miles. That would put all Russian logistics operations for the “Special Military Operation” at risk and bring the war to a screeching halt. However, the Pentagon has been reluctant to send those missiles to Ukraine because they want control of the targets Ukraine will hit. They also fear that giving Ukraine a weapon system that can strike deep inside Russia would be seen as “escalatory.” It’s one thing when Putin’s minions on Twitter and in our comments section get a case of the squirts over what Putin “might” do (SPOILER ALERT: it is always “He’s got nukes. He’ll use them. World War III!!!!!!!!), it is quite another when the alleged adults running our defense policy are governed by their unreasoning fears.
The message to Washington, I think, is that you can give us ATACMS and allow us to use them against operational targets in the theater…or we’ll build our own drones and use them however we damn well please. If you’re afraid ATACMS is escalatory, then hold my beer.
We’ll see how Russia reacts to the smack on the snout and whether the Russian high command is willing to put its strategic bomber fleet in jeopardy to make themselves feel less impotent by carrying their illegal war to the Ukrainian civilian population.