Previously we have discussed Ukrainian drone-bombings of Snake Island; and also of certain Russian assets, like the floating gas-extraction platforms in the Black Sea. Add to that the recent droning of an oil refinery in the Rostov Oblast of mainland Russia. Such attacks are usually proceeded (purely by coincidence, of course!) by the UFO phenomenon known as American Worldview satellites hovering overhead and snapping polaroids for their collection. Given the obvious coordination between American satellites and Ukrainian drones, is there anything the Russians can actually do to prevent such attacks? Or must they just sit helplessly and wait for them to happen?
To answer such questions I have this piece by analyst Mikhail Khodarenok. Gazeta is actually nice enough to give us a bio of their contributor, so let us summarize that quickly: Khodarenok is literally a rocket scientist. He graduated from the Minsk Higher Engineering Rocket Institute in 1976, and then the Military Anti-Air Command Academy in 1986. He commanded Rocket Division C-75 from 1980-83; then was Deputy Commander of a Rocket Regiment 1986-88. Senior officer in the General Staff 1988-2000. After which he retired and started working as a military analyst for various newspapers.
All this to say that he knows what he is talking about, when it comes to rockets, drones, and anti-air defenses.
A few days ago, June 22, the Novoshakhtinsky Factory of Petroleum Products (НЗНП) was attacked by two Ukrainian bomb-carrying drones. The factory is located in Russia proper, in the Krasnosulinsky Region of the Rostov Oblast (main city = Krasny Sulin). According to the wiki, this region was actually part of the Donetsk Gubernia of the Ukrainian SSR from 1923-1931. At which time, as if to spite those pundits who claim that Communists always took territory away from Russia and gave it to Ukraine, this region was re-districted to be on the Russia side of the administrative border. A kind of economic Gerrymandering among Soviet regions, purpose being to increase efficiencies of supplies and logistics. This map shows the relative positions (I have marked with arrows) of Mariupol, Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don, and Krasny Sulin. The oil refinery Novoshakhtinsk is the town right below Krasny Sulin. The so-called “internationally recognized” Ukrainian border runs just to the West of Krasny Sulin. Somehow the Ukrainians were able to vault their drones over this border into Russia proper, but the article doesn’t say from whence they were launched, or what their range is.
According to the factory’s press release: “As a result of terrorist actions incoming from the western border of Rostov Oblast, two unpiloted drones struck at technical objects within the publicly traded company Novoshakhtinsky Petroleum Products. The attack caused an explosion. There were no human casualties. The fire was localized and put out.”
The НЗНП factory went live in 2009. It has a capacity of refining up to 7.5 million tons of oil annually, and is the sole working oil refinery in the Rostov Oblast. It specializes in the production and sale of fuel oil, furnace, marine and diesel fuel, and straight-run gasoline.
Russian Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov hastened to reassure everybody that the explosion and fire would not put a crimp on the distribution of benzine and diesel fuels to consumers living the South of Russia: “The factory actually did not supply the kind of fuels needed for motor vehicles to the internal market; and at the current time was undergoing renovation,” according to Shulginov.
[I am not actually sure how to read that; whether or not the refinery was operational at the time, and whether or not it supplied fuel to the Russian military. Because the Ukrainian side claim this was a “legitimate” military target, just like Russia targets their military fuel supplies.]
For Their Photo Album?
Like Johnny on the spot, before the drone strike itself, American satellites were seen hovering overhead. The Russian news agency RIA Novosti confirmed that two satellites, Worldview-1 and Worldview-2, both owned by Maxar Technologies Inc., had been snapping photos of the oil refinery, just before the drone strikes.
But the real question here is, how can Russia defend its infrastructures objects from these Ukrainian drone attacks? Khodarenok hastens to defend Russian anti-air systems, who often take the blame when this sort of thing happens. People who say that these systems, such as the Panzir-S1 and the so-called “Top” system, are helpless against drones, simply don’t know what they are talking about. These systems proved their anti-drone effectiveness in several theaters of war, including Syria, Lybia, and the Ukraine. An up-and-coming Russian system called “Derivation Anti-Air” (Деривация-ПВО) is still in the testing phase, but shows great promise. It is equipped with smart explosive shells which explode themselves right alongside the target, guaranteed to destroy even the smallest drone.
The Ukrainian drones which attacked the oil refinery are of the type “Kamikaze Drones”. Most likely, according to Khodarenok, they are either native Ukrainian PD-1 drones; or Chinese drones of the type Skyeye 4450, which are sold freely on the world market. Either type can be stuffed with explosives.
Lessons to draw: In this region bordering on the Ukraine, the anti-air defense systems must be fortified, starting with radar location systems. A radar field should be set up no shorter than 50 meters (tall). This is the height needed to intercept drones. Moreoever: units of the radio-technical troops need to react very quickly in identifying the location of the target. At a height of 50 meters, the radar can “see” an area only around 15-17 kilometers. Therefore, this is the distance at which the radar systems need to be positioned one from the other. Moreover, the anti-air rockets should be able to cover the entire sky over these important infrastructure objects, without any gaps. In other words, a layered and inter-woven defense system consisting of short-, medium-, and long-range missiles.
Khodarenok also advises the use of strike helicopters, as components of a fully integrated and multi-layered anti-air defense system.
That’s it for Khodarenko’s analysis, and it only remains to speculate why the Ukrainians are wasting their precious drones on these pinprick strikes. Not that the strikes are not destructive, and do not cause loss of property and even lives, sometimes. But nonetheless have very little importance, in the strategic sense. (I am not counting Snake Island here, which is obviously of great strategic value.) To answer my own question, why are they doing this? I think the best answer is: Because they can. Or maybe, an even better answer: Because the Americans are running a controlled experiment?