Ukraine Strikes Blow To Russian Su-34 Fullback Base

Satellite images obtained by The War Zone confirm that the Morosovsk Airfield in Russia, about 150 miles from the front lines, was hit by a Ukrainian attack. It’s claimed that the operation was carried out via a mass drone attack. Ukrainian defense and intelligence units used at least 70 drones to strike the base Thursday, Ukrainian Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Defense Intelligence Directorate, told us exclusively.

Satellite images obtained by The War Zone confirm that an airbase deep in Russia was attacked. PHOTOS © 2024 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION

The airfield, located in the Rostov region of Russia, is home to dozens of Su-34 Fullback fighter-bombers that have been a key weapon in the war, and serves as a forward operating base for other Flanker derivatives. 

A group of technicians meets the Su-34 on the runway. Aviation show at the Kubinka airfield during the Army-2020 international forum of the Russian Ministry of Defense. (Photo by Mihail Tokmakov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

While the attack appears to have caused some damage, the full extent is unclear at the moment.

The images we obtained from Planet Labs show the covering of the base’s only multi-aircraft shelter, located on a maintenance apron, was blasted open, revealing two Su-34 Fullback fighter-bombers inside. These aircraft likely suffered some degree of damage. This hangar would have been a top target for Ukrainian drones. 

A short distance away, what appears to be a small crater and scorch marks can be seen on the apron. It is hard to tell if any aircraft were damaged, but this is where multiple jets are usually parked.

These before (bottom) and after images show damage to an apron at the Morosovsk Airfield caused by Ukrainian drones. PHOTOS © 2024 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION

Higher-resolution imagery is needed for a more detailed assessment of the latest in a growing list of Russian airfields that have been targeted by Kyiv. However, the damage seen in Friday’s image did not appear in one taken on June 6th. It’s also worth noting that evacuating any aircraft that are flyable out of a base that was just struck is a common practice for Russia.

Russian sources acknowledged the attack but differed in their assessments.

The Russian Two Majors Telegram channel claimed no jets were damaged. The Russian Kremlin Snuff Box Telegram channel claimed that while most of the drones were shot down before reaching the target, some made it through and six pilots were killed and another 10 troops were wounded as a result. Meanwhile, Budanov told us that a battle damage assessment is ongoing.

“We are waiting for information” about whether any aircraft were destroyed or damaged, he said.

There is other visual evidence that the airfield was targeted. Images and video emerged on social media overnight showing drones flying overhead toward Morosovsk. There were also claims that numerous explosions were heard near the base. A photograph on Twitter showed a large ball of flame and a huge plume of black smoke reportedly near the airfield.

“The drone flew straight over the head of a subscriber from Morozovsk,” the This Is Rostov News Telegram channel wrote. “The enemy was aiming at the airfield.”

Before we obtained the satellite images, Rostov Oblast governor Vasiliy Golubev said Thursday on his Telegram channel that “air defense forces successfully repelled a massive UAV attack on the territory of the Rostov region.”

“Drones were destroyed in the area of ​​several settlements in the region,” he added. “According to preliminary data, there are no casualties. Consequences on the ground are being clarified.”

Still, the power supply to the district was disrupted. 

“The restoration of power supply to settlements that are left without electricity today as a result of damage to a transformer substation due to a massive UAV attack continues,” he wrote. “At present, work on connecting life support facilities and social institutions to backup power sources has been largely completed. This will allow us to restore water supply to populated areas. Emergency teams of power engineers are working to restore power supply to residents.”

Morosovsk Airfield is located about 150 miles from the front lines. Google Earth image

The operation was launched from inside Ukraine, Budanov said, adding that least 70, and maybe more Ukrainian Dragon and Splash drones struck the airfield. That tally is in line with what the Russian Two Majors Telegram channel said on Friday. Two Majors complained the attack showed major vulnerabilities in Russian air defenses against drones.

“Despite the enemy’s failure to achieve the goals of destroying our aircraft tonight at the Morozovsk airfield in the Rostov region, the ability of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to launch 70 drones deep into our territory at a time, as well as their ability to overcome air defense before approaching the airfield, indicates that the enemy retains a high potential for using this type of homemade weapon defeats,” Two Majors said.

This was the second large-scale Ukrainian drone attack at Morozovsk in two months. It was also hit on April 5. Several videos and images emerged after that strike, which you can see below.

As we reported at the time, Ukrainian officials claimed that strike destroyed at least six military aircraft destroyed and badly damaged eight others. Kyiv also claimed that 20 Russian personnel on the base were killed or injured. The Kyiv Post Tweet of that claim can be seen below.

However, subsequent high-resolution Planet Lab images we obtained the following day showed no major damage at Morosovsk.

“The day before the attack, 29 jets were visible in parking areas across the facility. In the imagery obtained from Planet Labs, which was taken today, we can count the same number of aircraft, with no major damage being visible to them or to the base’s infrastructure,” we noted at the time

A Planet Laps satellite image of Morosovsk airfield taken the day after an April 5 Ukrainian drone attack shows no major damage. PHOTO © 2024 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION. PHOTO © 2024 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION.

This time, Ukrainian officials have as yet made no such bold claims. However, the base will be attacked again, Budanov promised.

“Yes,” he said tersely when asked if Ukrainian forces plan another aerial assault on that airfield.

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