Ukraine War Day #308: Engels/Strizh

Dear Readers:

A lot of things happened over this past Christmas weekend. But for me the most alarming thing that happened, was the “Ukrainian” drone strike against the Russian airbase in Saratov. I put the word “Ukrainian” in quotes, because everybody understands that this is actually NATO, using Ukrainians as their catspaws. The Engels airbase in Saratov is a spooky and seemingly well-guarded sanctuary where Russian jets are lined up on the tarmac, ready to fly at a moment’s notice to deliver nuclear bombs to their targets. If it should come to that. And yet the Ukrainians managed to strike that base twice in two weeks, using toy planes that you could carry on the back of a pickup truck.

Welcome to the Era of the Drone!

Some analysts believe that NATO is testing a theory, they want to see if they can take out this particular base in advance, to prevent a retaliatory strike, in the event they decide to do a first nuclear strike against Russia. So, for them this is an experiment. The other explanation (and they are not mutually exclusive) is that the Ukrainians were trying to deter what they had prognosed was to be another major Russian missile strike that was supposed to happen (so they say) this past Monday. And didn’t happen, because of the deterrent drone strike which messed up the Saratov base. So they say. [For the record, I sort of believe both theories at the same time.]

To help explain the dangers, I have this piece by military experts Viktor Baranets and Vladimir Demchenko. As you read my summary/translation you will see that the analysts claim that, both times, the drones were downed by Russian air defenses. And both times the downed drones scattered their debris over the runways, killing exactly 3 soldiers each time. This is Party Line, but a lot of people are not exactly buying that. Some analysts believe that the drones eluded anti-air and exploded when they were supposed to. Others believe that the drones were shot down, but maybe the payload exploded when it hit the tarmac. Either way, from NATO’s point of view, if this was an experiment, then it has been a success.

Baranets believes that the drones were of this type: Soviet TU-141, aka “Strizh”

Firstly, I never even knew before that drones were built even back in Soviet times, I always thought they were a more recent development. But so it was. As we shall see below, Ukraine inherited a fleet of these devices from the USSR.

How Could It Happen?

KP: Once again, Ukraine used a drone to strike at a Russian strategic object. Russian Defense sources communicate that the drone was shot down as it approached the Engels airbase in the Saratov Oblast. Three army servicemen were struck by the debris, and perished.

The exact same thing happened 2 weeks earlier, on December 5.

What type of drone was used in this, is an official secret. However, one postulates that, on both occasions, it was the TU-141 “Strizh”. These apparati were built back in Soviet times. But how were they able to elude anti-air defenses and fly for hundreds of kilometers deep into Russian territory? And how can we protect ourselves in the future from these things? To help answer those questions, we have consulted with a group of military experts.

Alexander Zhilin: “I can’t believe they did it again!”

Alexander Zhilin heads The Center For Studying Applied Military Science: “The amazing thing is that this drone [over Christmas weekend] flew in exactly the same route as the one 2 weeks earlier. And that’s 650 kilometers through Russian airspace.”

Vasily Dandykin is also a military expert: “We need to recall that it was also a Strizh that ran out of fuel and crashed, back in March, into Croatian space. And the vaunted NATO air defenses didn’t see it either. Currenly our air defense systems are concentrated on the front lines of the conflict, covering our troops. But these incidents should be a wake-up call, proving that air defenses need to be placed everywhere. And it shouldn’t be just Tor and Pantsir systems, but also Buk systems. During our war games, we found that these systems can readily handle such drones.”

Colonel Viktor Baranets: “Moscow itself, as well as the industrial heartland, is thickly defended with anti-air and anti-missile systems.”

Did The Brits And Americans Help Them?

Colonel Baranets believes that the Soviet Strizh systems have been adapted and modernized for Ukrainian use. He also believes that such modernizations would not have been possible without the assistance of Western secret services. The modernizations impact the drone’s ability to travel longer distances: “You see, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine inherited a large number of these Strizh devices, probably around 100. They were capable of flying 300 km at best. They were sometimes used for target practice during trainings at the polygon.”

But how were these targets altered? “You need to take into account 3 factors. Firstly, Ukraine retained a school of aviation instructors, they are all associated with Antonov. Secondly, they have this Motor-Sich enterprise, which is capable of refurbishing these targets with more powerful engines. And thirdly, the Brits and Americans taught the Ukrainians to insert brand-new electronic guts into these devices, and this what permits them to be guided by GPS when they are flying.

“Such technologies exist. Our Kalibr [missiles] behave in exactly the same way: They are programmed with a certain map, and they calmly fly to their goal, just another day at the office.

What if they flew in a swarm?

“If Ukraine was earlier able to fly these things only 100-150 kilometers, with the help of these British and American technologies, they can now fly them up to 1000 kilometers. Do you remember, back in March, how one of these things crashed down in Zagreb?”

The Strizh is 14 meters in length, and weights 5.4 tons. These devices completed their first mission in 1974. Their purpose was to collect data at a distance of several hundreds of kilometers. For this purpose the Strizh was equipped with photo and infrared cameras. It flew in a pre-determined route. It was not equipped with radio or real-time transmissions: After the drone landed, the film had to be removed from the camera and developed.

In 1978-89 the Kharkov aviation factory produced 152 of these devices. In 2012 they were retired from the arsenal, but returned again in 2014, for use of the troops. The Ukrainian army used them to spy on the territory of DPR/LPR. And then a decision was made to modernize them, with contemporary systems of guidance and navigation. Currently the TU-141 is not used for photographic surveillance, it is only used for discovery of anti-air systems, and also as a self-propelled flying missile.

yalensis: That’s it, for the KP article. For those Russophiles who lambast the Russian Defense for not shooting down the drone before it got to the base, I saw this tweet by retired Colonel of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Mikhail Khodarenok. Who explains the dangers of shooting off, say BUKs in an area where civilian aircraft may be flying overhead: “We have restricted flights in the regions bordering Ukraine and where SMO is conducted. As we can see, the enemy has found a way to strike deep into our territory. Therefore, in order for air defense to work effectively, it is necessary to limit civil aviation flights not only in the border regions, but also further. Moreover, a Ukrainian drone could hit a civilian aircraft in the air.”

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13 Responses to Ukraine War Day #308: Engels/Strizh

  1. Liborio Guaso says:

    The repeated non-detection indicates that something very sophisticated was used, not some commercial crap, cutting-edge Western technology and an operation executed directly by the West. Nobody is going to believe that they would deliver something like that to the Ucronazis and they would sell it like they do with weapons.


    • yalensis says:

      A cloaking device?
      Another theory is that the drone was detected, at a certain point, but the Russians didn’t risk shooting at it, because it was flying in civilian airspace (?)


  2. Qolotlh Kernow says:

    Thanks for continuing to publish riveting material Yalensis! For myself as an ‘armchair’ general I think there are (at least!) three factors operating here…

    One, the RF cannot have produced (yet) enough advanced AD systems such as S-400 to cover the front lines AND the rear areas and I would position those I had near the front – the British SAS seem to have stopped jaunting into Belgorod since an S-400 shot down a helo of theirs a few months back;

    Two, the USA is providing satellite guidance and EW protection near the front to get the drone through the front lines. A single aerial object is likely low priority for AD especially if the launch is obfuscated with HIMARs / Grad launches.

    Three, once successfully past the front the comments of Mikhail Khodarenok ring true – explaining “the dangers of shooting off, say BUKs in an area where civilian aircraft may be flying overhead” – I think it no surprise that these drones are being employed singly, the TU-141 is big enough to seem like a ‘proper’ aircraft and if a salvo were used it would break the looking like an airliner strategy.

    Which is not to denigrate the empire’s cleverness in getting these things through though!

    I feel that the SMO ‘model’ is part of the problem the RF has here. If this were a ‘proper war’ (I find it hard to say that) then the NATO AWACS, Wild Weasels and satellites that ably assist these attacks would be gone. The RF is sticking with its SMO strategy despite the hand tied behind the back limitation and is _still_ knocking seven bells out of Banderastan and NATO!

    The empire is bigging up these pinpricks to cover for the disaster that is their military campaign in the Ukreich. Not a financial disaster obviously as the ‘aid’ to Kiev is going largely to the US MIC and they are also swimming in LNG profits from Europe.

    My view – the RF need not ‘worry’ about single / double drone strikes on remote airbases whilst they continue to hammer away at NATO so capably. I feel more for Donetsk and the murderous French / Swedish / US / NATO strikes deliberately targeting schools, shops and hospitals with their NATO super accurate wunderwaffen.

    The Avenue of Angels in Donetsk never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

    Thanks again Yalensis, I am constantly amazed at how you find these reports that never, EVER, appear in the western MSM. Keep on thinking that the Nazis will lose eventually!



    • yalensis says:

      Thanks for a great comment, QK! I appreciate your armchair-general capabilities, and also your kind words!


    • Sacha says:

      According to some papers I read lately in Hebrew, Russia should worry less about thr spectacular but insignificant attack with the tu14 but rather with the one targeting Belgorod om December 18 and using us made agm88 missiles that went undetected as they use solid fuel which lowers its smoke and signature. It also shows that America ordered its puddle to use us made advanced weapons against russian soil and civilian facilities directly.

      About the attack on Engels airbase, I asked a friend who is a pilot and he said it’s a major concern and to give credit to the idea that russian forces did detect it but shot it down only approaching the airbase is how russian civilian airplanes fly from Moscow to sochi flying over…the Caspian sea. The area is not only restricted in the area of the border of course but they are ordered to fly much further away to avoid any miscalculated interception.


  3. S Brennan says:

    Dunno about this:

    “The repeated non-detection indicates that something very sophisticated was used, not some commercial crap”

    Why not use a transponder that mimics commercial aviation and buy precious time in the ensuing confusion?

    The beauty of, [well, beauty for the 3LA types is an acquired taste], such a set-up is at some point the 3LA burgermeisters could get an airliner flown off course and shot down, just a little misinformation on the display and everybody will wonder why the pilot was such an idiot.

    And anybody who has even a passing knowledge of the 3LA’s history knows that they love it when a fully loaded airliner downed…it makes them feel oh so special, so important. You know their trump card, “we didn’t want to but, WE HAD TO DO IT”. And should their crime ever be revealed, well, you know the refrain, you hear it all the time in the 3LA’s wholly owned media “well…it was worth it”.


  4. FatMax says:

    The drone that crashed in Zagreb wasn’t just undetected by Croatian AD, but by Hungarian and Romanian ADs, too. It flew in a congested civilian airspace, which explains a bit how it managed to fly so far and then crash in a f*cking capitol of a NATO country, for Chrissake. That crash was so loud that I heard it four kilometers away.

    The idea that Croatian AD would just allow a drone to crash in the middle of the city (nearby a packed student dorm, no less!) is just retarded. Same goes for Russian failure to shoot this drone down. Civvie airspace is full of aircraft and it’s damn hard to differentiate one from another, especially if one of them shuts off its transponder or something.
    There’s another reason this mucking about with “SMO” is a complete and utter failure: Engels airspace should become off limits for anything else besides military aircraft RIGHT NOW. It’s shocking that all this war-playing leaves a major nuke base vulnerable to an obsolete drone.
    Maybe Russians should send a drone of their own to “accidentally crash” on a German airbase or something. Whoops, we are such klutzes!


    • yalensis says:

      Wow, I am glad you were not injured by that crashing drone, Max. Just goes to show that all “modern” militaries and air defenses, are a bit behind the times, not adapting quickly enough to the new era of the drones. It isn’t just Russia, but also NATO as well. Some people in the blogosphere were going, “Oh, well control towers should be able to distinguish…” But I think the control towers are only looking for things (big or small planes) that they know are there, or which have filed flight paths. These drones don’t file flight paths, and nobody is expecting them, or looking for them.


  5. Daniel Rich says:

    @ yalensis,

    Russia’s operational nuclear force consists of 11 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, that [off the top of my head] can launch over 600 nuclear warheads in one go.

    There might be many fools in the west [especially gravitating towards politics], but nobody in his right mind will pull the nuclear trigger first. This sentiment is not based upon military information [as I’m not privy to any], but on personal feelings.


  6. Daniel Rich says:

    To keep/put things in perspective:


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