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Ukrainian Soviet-Era Tu-143 Reys UAVs Repurposed as Kamikaze Drones to Target Oil Depot in Russia

According to pictures released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Ukrainian forces continue to use old Soviet-made Tu-143 Reys unmanned reconnaissance aircraft converted to kamikaze drones to strike targets on Russian territory. Russian forces collected several pieces of Tu-143 UAV debris that fell into the Bryansk region in western European Russia.
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Debris of the Soviet Tu-143 Reys UAV shot down over the Bryansk region converted into a kamikaze variant by Ukrainian forces. (Picture source Social Network)

Over the past several months, Ukraine has conducted drone attacks on Russian territory using Soviet-era drones, including the Tu-143 "Reys". These incidents have included significant strikes on Russian airfields and infrastructure, showcasing the ongoing innovation and adaptation in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the conflict.

On 19 January 2024, a drone from the Armed Forces of Ukraine attacked an oil storage depot in the area of Bryansk in Russia. The Russian media reported that a fire caught and spread over 1,000 square meters. According to the debris collected by the Russian forces, the attack against the oil storage was conducted with Tu-143 Reys UAVs converted to kamikaze drones.

In December 2023, there were reports of Ukraine using Tu-143 drones laden with explosives to conduct strikes in the southern Russian regions of Belgorod and Kursk, which are close to the Ukraine border. These actions were part of a broader pattern of drone use by Ukraine, aiming to challenge Russian military assets and infrastructure within Russian territory. The use of these drones represents a significant aspect of Ukraine's strategy to extend its operational reach and to demonstrate its capability to impact Russian military capabilities at a distance.

On 5 and 26 December 2023, the Russian Air Force base Engels-2 was attacked by Ukrainian-launched drones, resulting in killed personnel and damaged six Tu-95s strategic bomber aircraft from Russian Aerospace Forces' (VKS') Long-Range. The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) of the Russian Federation ascribed the attacks to unmanned aerial vehicles of Soviet design, indicating that it believed them to be Tupolev Tu-141 ‘Strizh' or Tu-143 ‘Reys' reconnaissance drones that Ukraine inherited in 1991, and which it understood to have been used as strike weapons.

The Tu-143 Reys, a Soviet-era turbojet reconnaissance drone introduced in the mid-1970s, has been repurposed by Ukraine in the current conflict. Despite its original design for low-level reconnaissance missions, its use has evolved to include offensive operations against Russian military targets. This shift reflects a broader trend of repurposing older technology for new wartime applications.

The innovative conversion of the Tu-143 Reys drones into kamikaze drones by Ukraine involves retrofitting these Soviet-era reconnaissance drones with explosive charges for one-way attack missions. Originally designed for short-range reconnaissance, the Tu-143 boasted a maximum range of approximately 1,000 kilometers, enabling it to penetrate deeply into enemy territory to collect valuable intelligence before returning.

With the conversion into kamikaze drones, the operational use of the Tu-143 has shifted from surveillance to direct attack. The drones are modified to carry explosive charges, although the exact size of the charge may vary depending on the specific mission requirements and the drone's capacity. The addition of explosives transforms these drones into potent weapons, capable of delivering a destructive payload to a target with precision.

These incidents are part of a larger context of UAV use in the Ukraine conflict, illustrating the strategic and tactical importance of drones in modern warfare. The adaptation of older systems like the Tu-143 for current military needs speaks to the innovation and resilience of Ukrainian military strategy.

Ukrainian Soviet Era Tu 143 UAVs Repurposed as Kamikaze Drones to Target Oil Depot in Russia 925 002
The Tu-143 Reys is a Soviet-era, jet-powered, short-range reconnaissance drone launched from a truck-mounted system, allowing for mobile deployment and flexibility in operation. (Picture source Wikimedia)

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