In the early hours of Monday, December 5, reports emerged of strikes targeting the Engels-2 and Dyagilevo military air bases, both of which are located hundreds of kilometers away from the border with Ukraine. Russia’s Ministry of Defense later confirmed the attacks, stating that Ukraine used “Soviet-made jet unmanned aerial vehicles” in an attempt to “disable Russian long-range aircraft.” Some may find this hard to believe and are asking what exactly was used, well let me reintroduce you to the TU-141 and Tu-143.
Before we get into the drones, let’s go over what is known about the strikes.
Engels-2, located in the Saratov region, and Dyagilevo, located in the Ryazan Region, are two key Russian air bases that house and operate Tu-95 strategic bombers and other long-range aircraft. Aircraft from Engles-2 have been used in air and missile operations against Ukraine since the start of the invasion. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, an unspecified number of UAVs were intercepted over the bases, but falling debris killed three soldiers, wounded four others, and damaged two aircraft.
Additional images showing damage to the rear of the Tu-22M3 (RF-34110) bomber, loaded with a Kh-22 missile, ready for use.
The vehicle standing nearby is in fact not a fuel truck, but the APA-80 engine starting vehicle.
The bomber will not fly anywhere without serious repair. pic.twitter.com/dY7pgfC6bf
— ?? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) December 5, 2022
Russia’s Ministry of Defense did not specify where the casualties happened, but posts made to Twitter and Telegram suggest that the attack caused a fuel truck to explode at Dyagilevo. Photos of the aftermath show a destroyed fuel truck surrounded by pools of blood. Also seen is a damaged Tu-22M3 bomber that was armed with a Kh-22 missile. Satellite imagery of the air base also shows the extent of the damage.
Satellite images from the airfield "Dyagilevo"
They show significant damage to the fuselage of the Tu-22M3 supersonic heavy bomber and the explosion site. pic.twitter.com/HQNJDRAgam
— /Spriter/ (@Spriter0000) December 5, 2022
Satellite imaging from Engels-2 does not appear to show any clear signs of damage to the facility.
Sentinel-2 imagery of Engels-2 Airbase, No clear signs of damage visable yet..
08:05:32 UTC compared to 3-dec pic.twitter.com/7eWs3wyQxP
— Ruben Hofs (@rubenhofs) December 5, 2022
So, what did Ukraine use? Back in May, I wrote an article explaining the use of Soviet-era rocket drones in the Ukraine conflict, such as the Tu-141 and Tu-143. The original purpose of these systems was for low level reconnaissance missions with the use of turbo jet engines, which saw most of their action in the 1980s with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Syrian involvement in the First Lebanon War. Since then, Russia has long phased out the systems and now uses their remaining stock as aerial training targets. Ukraine, on the other hand, has used them throughout the Russian invasion to draw out Russian air defense positions. Likewise, they have also been packed with explosives to serve as cruise missiles.
???????? This morning, two explosions occurred at strategic aviation airfields in Engels and Ryazan. According to some reports, it was an AFU strike using converted Tu-143 Strizh drones.
These are not the first such attacks, but in several respects they are quite different. pic.twitter.com/KLD4F6RveU
— Rybar in English (@rybar_en) December 5, 2022
The Tu-141’s and Tu-143’s capabilities are long outdated with the newer unmanned systems of today, but they were somehow able to fly through hundreds of kilometers of Russian airspace undetected until they were near their targets. For Russia, this is a major problem as this could be a use case for more strikes by Ukraine utilizing this method. Likewise, this latest attack marks one of Ukraine’s most daring attempts to strike Russian military infrastructure deep in Russian territory. Before, most attacks against Russia itself were limited to targets in the border city of Belgorod. There has been one instance, however, when a Tu-series drone was intercepted over Kursk, Russia, but its target was unknown.
As for Kursk, it seems it was once again targeted by Ersatz-cruise missiles based on ancient Tu-143 unmanned aircrafts – but both were shot down before reaching the target. No other damage is recorded at the moment. pic.twitter.com/RaJNnLbJg6
— ?? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) July 3, 2022