Russian Navy Ka-29 Assault Helicopter Downed Amid Massive Ukrainian Drone Attack

A Russian Navy Ka-29 Helix-B assault helicopter was shot down near the Russian resort city of Anapa on the Black Sea. It was hit during what Russian and Ukrainian military officials say was a large-scale Ukrainian drone attack overnight Thursday into Friday on Crimea and Russia’s neighboring Krasnodar region, where Anapa is located. 

Russian and Ukrainian Telegram channels concurred that the helicopter was downed, but offer differing accounts of how. It would be the first known loss of a Helix, a heavily armed helicopter with various gun pods, rocket pods, provisions for an external cannon and a rotary machine gun in the nose. The Helix family can also sport door guns for drone hunting.

A 2017 photo of a Russian Navy Ka-29 Helix_B assault helicopter. Alan Wilson, Wikimedia Commons

One influential Russian source claims the Helix was taken out by friendly fire, during a search for Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessels (USVs). Another said it came during a massive aerial and USV attack that killed nearly 30 Russian troops in occupied Crimea and Krasnodar. 

“In Anapa, our own air defense shot down our own helicopter,” the Thirteenth Telegram channel, run by Russian soldier and milblogger Egor Guzenko, wrote.

During its sweep for Ukrainian drone boats in the Black Sea, “one of our [Pantsir air defense systems] hit the helicopter,” the Thirteenth wrote, adding that four Russian troops were killed in the incident.

Preliminary information indicated it was “due to a malfunction of the ‘friend or foe’ system,” he suggested. “I will not voice any versions, let counterintelligence and the investigation sort it out. Eternal memory to our soldiers.”

The War Zone cannot independently confirm that. 

Other Russian Telegram channels also reported that the helicopter was downed, but did not state the cause.

“The incident coincided [during] a night attack by Ukrainian kamikaze UAVs and unmanned boats, in the destruction of which these helicopters were actively involved,” the Russian Military Observer Telegram channel wrote.

“Sources also confirm the loss of the Ka-29 helicopter,” the Kremlin Snuff Box wrote. “We won’t say who hit him. But we hope that this situation will not happen again. At the same time, we once again call on the Ministry of Defense: strengthen our air defense! Now not only in Crimea, the enemy has new regions where he is launching large-scale attacks.”

One Ukrainian Telegram channel suggested the Helix was shot out of the sky by a Ukrainian USV armed with an infrared-guided R-73 (AA-11 Archer) short-range air-to-air missile.

The Ka-29 “could well have been intercepted” by an anti-aircraft modification of the R93 missile mounted on the USV,” the Ukrainian VRB news outlet postulated, without proof, on its Telegram channel. “Obviously, the [Russians] were working on {USVs] from a distance of less than 3 km and were directly within the range of the R-73RDM-2 missiles.”

The War Zone could not independently confirm that theory either.

We first reported about Ukraine pairing the weapon with its drone boat back in May in a story about a Helix attacking one. You can watch a video of that encounter below.


Neither Russian nor Ukrainian officials have yet commented on the Ka-29 downing. Ukrainian Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Defense Intelligence Directorate, declined comment. However, if the drone boat-launched R-73 missile claim is true, it would be the first successful downing of a Russian aviation asset by such a system. It would also be Russia’s first known Helix loss. The Oryx open-source tracking group has yet to add the helicopter to its list of Russian combat losses, but it only tabulates those it can visually confirm. As of noon Eastern time, there were no Ka-29s on that list.

The shootdown of a Russian Navy Ka-29 Helix-B assault helicopter, like the one in this phone, is the first known such loss. Alan Wilson, Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of how the helicopter may have been downed, it appears there was a great deal of confusion during the engagement. 

It was caused by a new Ukrainian tactic of using aerial drones combined with sea drones in a complex, layered attack, in an effort to confuse Russian defenses, according to the Russian Aerospace Forces-connected Fighterbomber Telegram channel.

“To fight off [USVs]” you need to raise helicopters; to fight off hundreds of UAVs, you need to destroy aerial targets. And one thing doesn’t go well with the other,” Fighterbomber explained.

“This tactic was expected,” Fighterbomber continued. “For a year and a half, [Ukrainians] have been hitting the ground with missiles at the moment when our front-line aviation enters the launch/drop zone. There, in the same way, an overload of channels is artificially created with the hope of an error and less efficiency and freedom of action for air defense operations.”

Fighterbomber then took what appears to be a sarcastic, backhanded swipe at Russian air defenses, alluding to the friendly fire theory.

“Of course, it is very good that we have a reliable ‘friend or foe’ system, which excludes shooting at our own,” Fighterbomber chided. “It sucks that she’s not in Laos.”

Budanov confirmed that Ukraine is using the new tactic, but said it was “experimental.” He declined to elaborate.

We regularly discuss how layering multi-domain unmanned craft or missile attacks can greatly stress and complicate an enemy’s defense. This would be a textbook case of that if indeed the tactic was used as described.

All this happened during what Russian and Ukrainian military officials said was a large-scale aerial Ukrainian drone assault.

The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) claimed it thwarted an attack by more than 100 aerial drones and additional sea drones.

“Over the past night, an attempt by the Kyiv regime to carry out a terrorist attack using unmanned boats and aircraft-type unmanned aerial vehicles on objects on the territory of the Russian Federation was stopped,” the MoD claimed.

“Air defense systems intercepted and destroyed 70 UAVs over the territory of the Republic of Crimea and over the Black Sea, 43 UAVs over the territory of the Krasnodar Territory and one UAV over the territory of the Volgograd Region,” the MoD stated. “In the northwestern part of the Black Sea, the naval aviation of the Russian Black Sea Fleet destroyed six unmanned boats of the Ukrainian Navy.”

Russian and Ukrainian military officials say several areas in the Krasnodar region were targeted by Ukrainian drones. Google Earth image

While Russia claims to have destroyed all the drones, Kremlin Snuff Box said some got through defenses with deadly effect.

“The enemy cunningly and meanly attacked Russia with drones,” Kremlin Box complained. “Some of the drones launched by the enemy on the night of Friday, June 21, unfortunately, broke through our air defense. There are deaths among the military.”

“In total, we have 28 dead military personnel at various facilities in Crimea and the Krasnodar Territory,” Kremlin Snuff Box claimed. “The attack was too large-scale and it was not possible to completely repulse it. The losses were especially serious at a facility near Yeysk and in several other areas. The enemy’s attack this time was very sneaky – there were a lot of drones flying along a tricky trajectory,” said our source in the Ministry of Defense.”

“We will not reveal exactly where the enemy drones hit,” Kremlin Snuff Box continued. “Let us only note that among the dead there were very valuable specialists. Some of them played an important role in attacks on enemy territory, including military infrastructure in the Ukrainian rear.”

However, Yeysk Airfield is home to a major tactical jet forward operating base, which includes Sukhoi Su-34 Fullbacks, and there Russian training facilities nearby. Claims have emerged that it was struck during the attack. Visual evidence and NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) indicates some kind of attack nearby there, but not on the base itself. Subsequent satellite imagery taken today shows that there was a fire to the west of the base, matching the firms data.

A satellite image showing the burned field area that was set ablaze last night to the west of the airbase. (Planet Labs)

The Ukrainian General Staff said that aerial drones attacked two oil refineries in Krasnodar as well as “radar stations and radio-electronic intelligence centers of the Russian invaders in the Bryansk region [of Russia] and temporarily occupied Crimea.”

Ukrainian forces also “made a successful attack on the places of storage and preparation for the use of ‘Shahed-136/Geran-2’ [drones], training buildings, control and communication points of these UAVs located in the Krasnodar Territory. According to the results of combat work, a series of explosions and a fire followed by detonation were recorded.”

The defense forces “continue to take all measures to undermine the military and economic potential of the Russian occupiers and stop Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine,” the General Staff concluded.

This is the latest example of Ukraine massing drones in an attempt to overwhelm Russian air defenses on the way to their targets. Last week, Budanov told us that about 70 drones were used to strike Morosovsk Airbase in Rostov Oblast.

That attack damaged at least two Fullbacks. The one Friday was over a much wider area and appears to be multi-domain in nature. It also resulted in more claimed damage and loss of lives.

What’s totally clear is that Ukraine is highly focused on expanding the magnetude and frequency of its long-range drone attacks, which are becoming increasingly challenging for Russia to defend against.

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