Ukraine Drones Come of Age with Russian Airfield Strikes, But Most Aircraft Still Privately Operated | KyivPost – Kyiv Post

December 17, 2022 by No Comments

It was the most spectacular Ukrainian drone attack of the war – so far.

At a pair of air bases deep inside Russia, on Dec. 5, ground crews were loading cruise missiles and fueling T-160 Blackfire strategic bombers, Tu-95 Bear long-range reconnaissance turboprops, and Tu-22 Backfire swing-wing strike aircraft for renewed air attacks against Ukraine’s power grid.

The day-to-day mission for the 20 to 24 nuclear-capable bombers squatting on the airfields’ tarmacs was deterrence and maritime force projection. But starting in October the Kremlin came up with a new mission for Russian strategic bombers: Firing ground-skimming missiles from the safety of Russian air space at Ukrainian power stations, electricity substations and hydroelectric plants.

In the previous round of Russian attacks, on Nov. 23, a strike package of Bears and Backfires unleashed more than 90 cruise missiles at Ukraine’s power grid, blasting substations and generation facilities, and plunging tens of millions of Ukrainian homes and businesses into blackout for two to four days.

The Dec. 5 follow-up strike was to have been even more devastating – but before that could happen, Ukrainian kamikaze drones flew hundreds of kilometers past some of the Kremlin’s most dense air defenses to blast the airfields literally as Russian bombers were being loaded up with missiles.

In the early hours of the morning, according to multiple reports, at least two Ukrainian drones slammed into Dyagilevo military air base, more than 500 kilometers (311 miles) from the nearest Ukrainian combat units, deep inside Russia’s Ryazan Oblast. Explosions shredded at least one Tu-22M3 bomber, torched a fuel truck, and, according to official Russian government statements, killed three service personnel and injured five. Among the dead was Tu-22 bomber pilot Major Aleksandr Shnotin. Subsequent satellite images of the airfield showed evidence that as many as five aircraft were damaged and unflyable.

This is a satellite image of Russia’s Engels Air Force base following Ukraine’s Dec. 5 long-range drone strike. The military blogger @MT_Anderson has circled locations where a total of more than 20 Russian strategic bombers were present prior to the strike, and which subsequently left. The green circle identifies a message in 20-meter letters apparently created by Russian ground personnel for satellite overflight viewers. The message (in Russian) reads: “Death to Fascists”.

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