With a whole wave of drones, Ukraine has attacked targets in Russia. The actual damage is minor, but these attacks put great pressure on Putin and his military.

Ukraine is taking the drone war deep into Russia – a whole wave of Ukrainian drones attacking targets in Russia. One came just before Moscow. Another hit a refinery in Tuapse. A bomber was hit in this way at an airport in December. This time the air defense was better prepared, but the operation is a great success for Kiev – because in this way Ukraine can now also attack targets in the Russian hinterland. And this has consequences for the Russian military.

Presumably no Western-style weapons were used in this attack either, but old “brummers” from the Soviet era of the type Tu-141 “Strizh” (“wall glider”). The Tu-141 was built in the early 1970s as a reconnaissance drone without armament. Its range at that time was 1000 kilometers. The drone itself had to be modified only moderately. Presumably, the old reconnaissance sensors were removed and replaced with modern GPS-based controls.

In order to be able to accommodate the explosive charge, the tank and thus the range were probably reduced. There was an incident involving this type shortly after the start of the war in March 2022. A drone launched in Ukraine went off course and crashed near Zagreb. According to Croatian information, it also had a warhead on board that was not originally installed in the Tu-141. Only 141 units were built from 1979 to 1989. At over 14 meters, the Tu-141 is relatively long and has a high cruising speed of 1000 km/h. Despite its age, the Tu-141 moves like a modern drone. It approaches its target at low altitude, plotting its course to follow dips, thus taking advantage of the “shadow” of altitude.

political effect

The actual effect of such attacks is small. Drones carry only a small bomb load compared to the weapons of a fighter-bomber. In addition, the common swift has a small number of systems. The political significance is all the greater for this. The people of Ukraine, who have to seek protection from Russian attacks in subway stations and bunkers, will be pleased that their own military can now strike deep in Russia and the sirens will be wailing there. A hit on a symbolic building like the Ministry of Defense or the Kremlin would have a strong PR effect even if the damage was small. This threat has already led to short-range air defense systems being placed on the roofs of government buildings in Moscow.

It remains to be seen whether Kiev will be able to build its own long-range weapons. Weapons that the Allies do not want to supply. With the Tu-141 only an existing old system was serviced and rebuilt. In principle, Kiev could also try to build cheap drones like the Iranian models or even ballistic missiles with “on-board resources”. There are several role models for such an attempt. For example the concept of a cluster rocket, like the OTRAG, which the German Lutz Kayser wanted to build in Libya.

military consequences

This is a difficult situation for the Russian military. In principle, drones can be intercepted, as the air defenses of Ukraine prove. But with a range of up to 1000 kilometers, there are many worthwhile destinations for the swifts and a correspondingly large number of approach routes. Protecting them all is not possible. And any defense system that is now stationed in the hinterland can no longer protect the invading troops in Ukraine. The Allies have already pledged to supply Kiev with long-range weapons. They will not reach the 1,000 kilometers of the swifts, but they will expand the threatened zone on the Russian side from the current 70 kilometers to almost 200. The Russian defenses will be overwhelmed if they have to protect this area and the Russian rear at the same time.