BusinessRussia’s Drones Are Now Flying Far Enough To Blow...

Russia’s Drones Are Now Flying Far Enough To Blow Up Ukrainian MiGs


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Bad news for the scrappy Ukrainian air force.

An explosives-laden Russian drone struck and damaged an air force Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter on the tarmac at Dolgintsevo air base near Kryvyi Rih on or before Tuesday. Despite claims to the contrary from some observers, there’s little reason to believe footage of the attack is fake.

The MiG, one of dozens in Ukrainian service, might be repairable. But that’s not the real problem.

No, the real problem is that Russia’s one-way “suicide” drones apparently now range as far as 45 miles. That’s the distance between Dolgintsevo air base and the front line in southern Ukraine.

Russian and Ukrainian forces both use small, one-way drones to strike at the other’s air-defense systems, artillery, supply convoys and armored vehicles—and even sometimes individual infantry in their dugouts and trenches.

The Russian Lancet is among the most numerous, and most effective, of these explosive drones. But until now, a baseline “Product 51” Lancet—weighing just 25 pounds—could range only as far as 25 miles.

That meant that Ukraine’s main air bases—and the scores of MiGs and Sukhois based at them—all were beyond range of the tiny drones.

But the Kremlin has been developing longer-range Lancets, and isn’t shy about it. Russian propagandists back in August touted a new “Product 53” Lancet with a nearly 45-mile range. Sputnik described Product 53 as “the next step in the evolution of the Lancet—and one which, designers hope, will become nearly impossible to stop.”

The strike on that MiG at Dolgintsevo might be the new Lancet’s combat debut. What’s equally alarming is that a second drone observed the Lancet attack from overhead, indicating that Ukrainian air-defenses at the base weren’t active, or weren’t working.

A Lancet ranging 45 miles can threaten not just the MiGs at Dolgintsevo, but also any Ukrainian warplanes using the reserve base at Voznesensk in Mykolaiv Oblast. To mitigate the threat, Ukrainian air force planners could move the jets to more northern bases, boost air-defense coverage over vulnerable facilities or put parked jets under shelters—or do all three.

The Ukrainian air force before now mostly managed to stay a step ahead of Russian forces. Early warning of major Russian missile attacks gave commanders plenty of time to disperse their planes and crews to outlying airfields or even highways.

And according to Gen. James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, Ukrainian pilots “almost never take off from an airfield and land at the same airfield.”

These protective measures greatly have reduced the threat that Russian bombardment poses to Ukrainian air force operations. But the introduction of a new, farther-flying Lancet increases the threat.

It’s a problem the Ukrainians certainly will try to solve before their secondhand European F-16s start arriving later this year.

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