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Analysis: Modified Tu-141 drones launched from Ukraine strike Russian air force bases

According to information released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Russian air force bases attacked on December 5, 2022, would have suffered an airstrike thanks to the use of the old Soviet-made modified reconnaissance drone Tupolev Tu-141 launched from Ukraine and fitted with an explosive warhead. The Ukrainian government has not yet confirmed that the strikes were carried out by Ukraine.
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Russian Dyagilevo air force base would have been attacked by modified Tupolev Tu-141 drones launched from Ukraine and fitted with an explosive warhead. (Picture source Wikipedia)

On December 5, 2022, Russia announced that two military air force bases were bombed by unidentified aerial systems. One of the explosions was at the Engels-1 air base in the Saratov region, the other at Dyagilevo in the Ryazan area - both hundreds of km inside the Russia-Ukraine border. On Tuesday, December 6, 2022, another Russian air force base was hit at Kursk in southwest Russia, near the Ukrainian border.

These Russian air force bases host Tu-22M bombers, Tu-95 strategic bombers, and Tu-160 which are used to target Ukraine. These two attacks could show a weakness in the Russian anti-aircraft defense and that Ukraine is now able to strike Russian territory.

The Russian defense ministry has confirmed that the drone attacks had killed three people and caused damage to aircraft at the Ryazan and Engels air bases, both more than 450 km from the Ukrainian border.

Satellite images were released by the Israeli company ImageSat International showing possible damaged Tu-22M bomber aircraft after the attack at the Dyagilevo air base in Russia.

Citing a Ukrainian source, the two Russian air force bases were struck by drones launched from Ukrainian territory with the help of Ukrainian Special Forces close to the base who helped guide the drones to the target.

Russian military officials said that the weapons launched by Ukraine were Soviet-era jet drones. Reportedly, they were Tupolev Tu-141s, ex-Soviet antiques that last saw front-line use in the 1980s, flying photo-reconnaissance missions for the Soviet air force.

The Tu-141 is a Soviet-made reconnaissance drone that was in service with the Russian air force as well as the Ukrainian air force from 1979 to 1989. On 8 March 2022, a Tu-141 reconnaissance drone was reported crashed in Ukraine. We can therefore think that the Ukrainian engineers could have modified the drone to be used as a loitering munition.

In terms of technical features, the Tu-141 has a length of 14.33m and a wingspan of 3.88m. It is powered by a Tumansky KR-17A engine and can fly at a maximum speed of 1,100 km with a maximum cruising range of 1,000 km.

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