As the Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to unfold in the Donbas and the southern part of the country, Kyiv is also taking the war to Russia itself thanks to drone drone strikes.
Putin Surely Hates Ukraine’s Drones
In the past weeks, the Ukrainian forces have increased their unmanned aerial systems attacks – or drone attacks – against targets in Russia, thus broadening the conflict.
The destruction of an expensive Russian bomber aircraft is a testament to Kyiv’s drone capabilities.
Tu-22 Backfire Down
“On 19 August 2023, a Tu-22M3 BACKFIRE medium bomber of Russia’s Long Range Aviation (LRA) was highly likely destroyed at Soltsky-2 Airbase in Novgorod Oblast, 650 km away from Ukraine’s border,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in a recent estimate of the war.
The Russian Aerospace Forces have been using Tu-22M Backfire bombers to launch cruise missiles and unguided bombs against Ukrainian urban centers.
The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that the Ukrainians used a small copter-style tactical unmanned aerial system to attack the airfield.
“If true, this adds weight to the assessment that some UAV attacks against Russian military targets are being launched from inside Russian territory. Copter UAVs are unlikely to have the range to reach Soltsky-2 from outside Russia,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.
Ukrainian special operators and Russian rebels have been operating within Russia, and they could have been behind this attack.
“This is at least the third successful attack on LRA airfields, again raising questions about Russia’s ability to protect strategic locations deep inside the country,” the British Military Intelligence added.
The Russian military is faced with a tough choice: commit more forces to protect the airfields and the expensive aircraft or relocate the aircraft to bases farther to the east and thus acknowledge an inability to defend your home turf.
Drones Over Ukraine
The conflict in Ukraine is, in many ways, one of drones. To be sure, it is the main battle tanks, artillery, rocket launchers, infantry fighting vehicles, and foot soldiers that are shouldering the heaviest burdens, but drones are playing a significant role for the first time in a large-scale conventional conflict.
For example, in the absence of air superiority, both militaries use drones as fire observers for artillery, locating targets, and adjusting fire missions. Infantry platoons also use drones when they attack enemy trench systems, thus having the invaluable ability to see what they wouldn’t otherwise. Finally, both sides use drones in a kinetic role.
The Russian military is relying on a strategic level of drones to impose costs on the Ukrainian government and people. Swarms of Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones have been attacking Ukrainian urban centers and critical infrastructure, killing and wounding hundreds and causing damages worth tens of billions of dollars.
On the other hand, the Ukrainian forces use kinetic drones in a more tactical setting. There are countless videos online that show Ukrainian troops using cheap civilian drones to lob grenades into Russian trenches and heavy weapon systems. Indeed, the Ukrainians have destroyed a large number of expensive weapon systems with these swarms of “flying grenades.”
As the war continues, both sides will rely on drones more because of the advantages these small pieces of technology offer.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from the Johns Hopkins University, an MA from the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and is pursuing a J.D. at Boston College Law School. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.
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