April 5, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine drones assault four air bases inside Russia, destroying Tu-95 strategic bombers and fixed wing aircraft

Institute for the Study of War

Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) and Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted one of the largest series of drone strikes against military facilities within Russia, targeting at least four Russian airbases, on the night of April 4 to 5. Ukrainian media reported that sources within Ukrainian security services, including the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR), stated that the SBU and Ukrainian forces conducted successful strikes on airfields near Kursk City and Yeysk, Krasnodar Krai; the Engels Airbase in Saratov Oblast; and the Morozovsk Airbase in Rostov Oblast.[1] These Ukrainian security sources reportedly stated that the Ukrainian drone strikes significantly damaged three Tu-95MS strategic bombers at Engels airbase, damaged two Su-25 fixed-wing aircraft at the airbase near Yeysk, and destroyed six unidentified aircraft and significantly damaged another eight unidentified aircraft at the Morozovsk Airbase.[2] The Ukrainian strikes reportedly killed four Russian military personnel at the airbase near Yeysk and seven Russian personnel at the Engels Airbase and wounded and killed up to 20 Russian personnel at the Morozovsk Airbase.[3] Geolocated footage shows explosions and Russian air defenses activating near all the airbases except for the one near Yeysk.[4] ISW has not yet observed any visual confirmation that Ukrainian forces damaged or destroyed aircraft or infrastructure at any of the airbases. Satellite imagery collected on April 4 indicates that there were three Tu-160 heavy strategic bombers, five Tu-95 strategic bombers, an Il-76 transport aircraft, and a Tu-22 bomber at Engels Airbase; ten L-39 training and combat aircraft, five An-26 transport aircraft, an An-74 transport aircraft, an An-12 transport aircraft, four Su-27 fixed-winged aircraft, four Su-25 fixed-wing aircraft, one Su-30 fixed-wing aircraft, and several Ka-52 and Mi-8 helicopters at the Yeysk Airbase; and 29 fixed-wing aircraft, primarily Su-34s, at the Morozovsk airfield.[5] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces intercepted 44 drones over Rostov Oblast, six drones over Krasnodar Krai, and a drone each in Saratov, Kursk, and Belgorod oblasts on the night of April 4 and into the morning on April 5.[6] Ukrainian drone strikes have typically only targeted individual airbases within Russia, and Ukraine’s ability to strike four separate airbases in one strike series represents a notable inflection in the capabilities that Ukrainian forces are employing in their campaign against Russian military infrastructure, critical infrastructure, and strategic industries within Russia.

ISW continues to assess that Ukrainian strikes against targets within Russia are a necessary component of Ukraine’s campaign to degrade industries that support the Russian war effort and military capabilities deployed in the Russian rear through asymmetric means. Russian forces routinely use Tu-95 strategic bombers stationed at Engels Airbase to launch Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles at targets in Ukraine, and the Russian military had roughly 60 Tu-95 aircraft as of 2023.[7] If confirmed, the possible loss of roughly five percent of Russia’s strategic Tu-95 bombers in a single strike would be notable. ISW has also previously observed that the loss of fixed-wing aircraft is not negligible since Russia likely has about 300 various Sukhoi fixed-wing aircraft.[8] Russian forces are currently using Sukhoi fixed-wing aircraft to conduct guided and unguided glide bomb strikes along the entire frontline in Ukraine and have previously leveraged significantly intensified glide bomb strikes to make tactical gains.[9] Sustained Ukrainian strikes against Russian airfields within Russia will degrade the Russian Aerospace Force’s (VKS) ability to conduct missile and air strikes throughout Ukraine.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) and Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted one of the largest series of drone strikes against military facilities within Russia, targeting at least four Russian airbases, on the night of April 4 to 5.
  • The recently intensified tempo of Russian offensive operations in Ukraine will likely result in increased manpower and materiel losses, but the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) appears to be successfully mitigating these losses.
  • Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal indicated that Ukraine is starting to staff new units, but that Ukraine needs further Western military assistance to properly equip them.
  • Shmyhal also reported that Russian missile and drone strikes have damaged or disrupted roughly 80 percent of electricity generation at Ukrainian thermal power plants (TPPs) in recent weeks, as Russian forces continue to exploit the degraded Ukrainian air defense umbrella in an effort to collapse Ukraine’s energy grid.
  • Ukrainian officials continue to warn that Russian forces are systematically and increasingly using chemical weapons and other likely-banned chemical substances in Ukraine.
  • An unattributed drone reportedly struck a military unit in the pro-Russian Moldovan breakaway republic of Transnistria on April 5 amidst an assessed ongoing Kremlin hybrid operation aimed at destabilizing Moldova from within.
  • Russia reportedly has conducted thousands of cyber-attacks against Czechia’s rail transport infrastructure and that of other European states as part of a broader effort to degrade NATO members’ transport logistics since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka amidst ongoing positional fighting along the entire line of contact on April 5.
  • Russia’s defense industry continues to mobilize to meet the Russian military’s needs in Ukraine.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on April 4 that Russia will open two youth centers aimed at indoctrinating Ukrainian youth into Russian culture and historical narratives in occupied Zaporizhia and Kherson Oblasts in the near future.

For full report:  https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-april-5-2024 

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