Ukraine Situation Report: Claims Swirl Around Drone Attack On Russian Fighter-Bomber Base

The base that was attacked is a major hub for Russia’s tactical air operations over Ukraine and houses dozens of jets.

byThomas Newdick|
Ukrainian officials claimed on Friday that the drone strike targeting the Morozovsk airbase in Russia had killed or injured 20 members of personnel.
Google Earth


Ukrainian drones reportedly struck Morozovsk Air Base, home to dozens of Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft and a forward operating base for other Sukhoi fighters, in the Rostov region of Russia overnight. The attack appears to be the latest in a growing list of airfields to be targeted by Kyiv. Just how successful this operation was remains very much unclear, with conflicting claims circulating.

According to Ukrainian officials, the strike left at least six military aircraft destroyed and badly damaged eight others. Kyiv also claims that 20 Russian personnel on the base were killed or injured.

The claims were made by a Ukrainian intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Reuters news agency.

On the Russian side, officials claim that the damage at the airbase was limited to a power substation, and that local air defenses intercepted 44 Ukrainian drones. In total, the Russian Ministry of Defense claims 53 Ukrainian drones brought down overnight in different regions across the country.

October 2023 image of the base. Google Earth
October 2023 image of the base. Google Earth

Unofficial accounts from Russia also described an attack on Morozovsk Air Base, according to the Telegram channel Shot. Meanwhile, a Russian Aerospace Forces-affiliated Telegram channel, Fighterbomber, has stated that there were impacts at the base due to drone strikes, but that the resident aircraft had been dispersed in advance and escaped damage. However, the same channel said that a secondary explosion during the cleanup operation after the raid resulted in some injuries.

Satellite imagery from today obtained by The War Zone suggests that there was some recent movement of aircraft at the base, with some not appearing where they were as of April 4. However, the imagery is inconclusive as to the degree of damage caused, due to the limitations of low-resolution imagery. It remains possible that some aircraft may have been evacuated after the attack, as well.

Based on different Russian accounts, it seems that the drone strikes may well have been specifically directed at different Russian airbases. As well as Morozovsk, other locations that were attacked include Engels in the Saratov region, and Yeysk in the Krasnodar region. The airbase at Engels is used by Russian long-range bombers, while Yeysk is a naval air facility and has also played a major role in the Ukrainian war. Both those bases have also come under previous drone attack.

Location of the airfield in relation to Ukraine and the Black Sea. Google Maps

As for the airbase at Morozovsk, this is home to the 559th Bomber Aviation Regiment, which has operated the Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft since 2013 and has three squadrons with a nominal strength of 36 aircraft. In addition, there are smaller numbers of Su-30 and Su-35 Flanker multirole fighters also at the base, presumably a temporary wartime deployment, for a total of 29 aircraft in all as of yesterday. Su-34s operating from Morozovsk have been heavily involved in the war in Ukraine since the full-scale invasion.

Morozovsk Air Base has come under previous drone attack, although Ukraine has never posted such significant claims for aircraft destroyed or damaged. At this point, we are unable to verify those claims, but will continue to monitor satellite imagery with the hope of clarification as to exactly what happed in the overnight attacks.

Since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there have been repeated long-range drone strikes — as well as sabotage attacks — against Russian airbases within the country’s own borders. As Moscow keeps up its missile and drone offensive against Ukraine, and especially against its energy infrastructure, Ukrainian drone attacks are seen as a way to fight back against Russia’s aerial onslaught, which has intensified recently.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

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Just three days ago, Ukraine used a previously unseen drone converted from a light manned aircraft to attack the Russian factory facility where license production of the Iranian-designed Shahed-series one-way attack drone takes place. Now, another new drone type has been unveiled in Ukraine, with a similar looking design and many features in common.

The E-300 Enterprise drone. via X via X

Apparently named E-300 Enterprise, the new drone has been reported by some sources as the type that was used to attack the Shahed production facility in Yelabuga, in Russia’s southeastern Tatarstan region. However, despite a broadly similar appearance, it differs in certain key respects, most notably the drone used in the strike has a much narrower tail section and more streamlined design.

As we surmised at the time, the drone that attacked Yelabuga is a conversion of a light manned aircraft, the Ukrainian-made Aeroprakt A-22, also known by its nickname, the Foxbat, which is classified as an ultralight and is produced as a factory-built aircraft and as a kit. 

Meanwhile, the E-300, while it broadly resembles a light manned aircraft, appears to have been developed from an existing cargo drone design, from Ukrainian manufacturer AeroDrone, which also previously developed drones for the agricultural industry.

According to some claims, the E-300 — in its cargo drone configuration — has a range of around 1,900 miles and can carry a 660-pound payload. The maximum range can only be achieved at the expense of some of the cargo, but even if this figure is anywhere in the ballpark of being reality, it would allow the military version of the drone to hit targets well beyond Yelabuga, which may have been the furthest a Ukrainian drone has struck so far. Yelabuga is roughly 700 miles from the Ukrainian border; previous attacks in and around St. Petersburg have also involved broadly similar distances. 

At the same time, Ukraine is also working on a range of different one-way attack drones, including jet-powered ones and others that are significantly smaller than the E-300 but which prioritize other features, such as very low cost and high endurance or better survivability

We will continue to see a combination of different drone types used as Kyiv proceeds to hit targets deep within Russia — primarily attacking its oil infrastructure — with refinements being made to designs as Ukrainian industry optimizes them for the demands of this ongoing campaign.

Other new Ukrainian drone developments include the emergence of another long-range design, although this one has much more in common with tactical battlefield drones than the types of long-range attack vehicles we’ve previously seen.

The Sokol-300 is claimed to have a range of 2,050 miles and a 660-pound payload. This range, it has been noted, would allow it to target the vast majority of Russia’s major airbases, including the long-range bombers stationed on the Kola Peninsula. However, the design of the Sokol-300 shares more with medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drones like the U.S. MQ-1 Predator and many others, and its development began in advance of the full-scale Russian invasion, with a view to it undertaking battlefield strike and reconnaissance functions.

Ukrainian drones of a very different flavor next, with more details on the so-called “drainpipe drone,” wreckage of which fell into Russian hands. A recent report on the drone notes how it has been created specifically to provide a low-cost, easy-to-manufacture long-range strike capability. The Ukrainian drone, the name of which remains unknown — makes use of common materials, including PVC piping. These are then put together in much the same way as a hobby drone, albeit with a powerful warhead.

On the battlefield, there are growing concerns that the front lines might be poised to move in Russia’s favor.

A recent op-ed by Jamie Dettmer, opinion editor at Politico Europe, contrasts the pessimistic words of Elon Musk — who recently warned that “if the war lasts long enough, Odesa will fall too” — with those of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the last few days.

Pushing again to get Washington’s stalled multibillion-dollar arm package approved, Zelensky warned that his forces will have to “go back, retreat, step by step, in small steps” if that doesn’t materialize.

The same article predicts that Russia will launch a new summer offensive after having softened up Ukraine’s defenses with its relentless campaign of missile and drone strikes that have stretched from Kharkiv and Sumy in the north to Odesa in the south. Zelensky also said this was a probability.

“Essentially, everything now depends on where Russia will decide to target its strength in an offensive that’s expected to launch this summer,” the article contends. However, it remains “hard to guess where it will mount its major push.”

Recent developments on the battlefield have included intense fighting east of Terny, a village in the Kramatorsk district in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

Here, it appears that Russia launched another attempted mechanized assault east of the village, suffering heavy losses in the process. As we have seen on multiple occasions in the past, it seems that Russian forces advanced down a single road, with their armored column then coming under sustained attack from a variety of Ukrainian weapons, including artillery, drones, and anti-tank missiles.

According to a U.S. State Department official, Russia has almost completely rebuilt its military after the huge losses sustained early on its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“We have assessed over the course of the last couple of months that Russia has almost completely reconstituted militarily,” said Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security, Defense News reports.

The account is at odds with the assessments of other officials both in the United States and Europe.

For example, earlier this year, the chair of Lithuania’s national security committee estimated it would take Russia between five and seven years to reconstitute its forces such that the country was able to wage a full-scale war.

As well as greatly increased defense spending, Campbell points to support from key allies — namely China, Iran, and North Korea — in retuning Russia’s military potential to its earlier levels.

“We’ve really seen the [People’s Republic of China] start to help to rebuild Russia’s defense industrial base, essentially backfilling the trade from European partners” that lapsed when Russia invaded, Campbell said.

Nevertheless, Russia’s human losses have been huge. Last month, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that Russia had suffered more than 315,000 casualties during the war.

At the same time, it should be noted that whatever success Russia has had in rebuilding its forces to a level that is at least numerically similar to how they were before the full-scale invasion, there are clearly questions about the capabilities of the equipment — and soldiers — being inducted. A North Korean weaponry may well be inferior to Russian-made equivalents, for instance. Meanwhile, the fact that storage depots are being emptied of Cold War-era tanks like the T-62, and even the antiquated T-54/55, for combat in Ukraine, tells its own story. While the quantities might be similar, the same is certainly for the case for the quality, at least in certain key areas.

With the possibility of a new Trump administration in the United States, Ukraine’s allies are again looking for ways to ensure that Kyiv gets the weapons it needs to continue its fight against Russia, Politico reports.

The United States and other Western countries are now considering transferring responsibility for coordinating the shipment of weapons to Ukraine to NATO, which would incorporate the U.S.-led multinational group that currently handles this. This is one of several proposals that aim to maintain the flow of arms to Kyiv should a second Trump presidency become manifest.

Russia’s missile and drone attacks on Ukraine continue, with country’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv, once again targeted on the night of April 3-4.

According to Kharkiv’s regional governor, Oleh Syniehubov, four people were killed and 12 were wounded in the latest Russian drone attacks, which involved a wave of Iranian-designed Shahed drones.

Of at least 15 drones, several shot down by air defenses, Ukrainian authorities claimed.

Close to the border with Russia, Kharkiv has become a frequent target for Russian strikes in recent weeks, being hit with both ballistic missiles and drones.

“Each manifestation of Russian terror once again proves that the country-terrorist deserves only one thing — a tribunal,” Ukraine’s human rights chief, Dmytro Lubinets, wrote on Telegram in response to the attack.

Recent Russian missile and drone attacks have aimed to significantly damage Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, resulting in power outages in the Kharkiv region.

As for Ukrainian air defenses, a recent assessment from Michael Kofman, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment think tank, suggests that mobile air defenses — including machine-gun-armed trucks — now likely account for over 40 percent of intercepts of Shahed-type drones.

“This is partly due to the deficit of munitions for valuable interceptive systems like Patriots, IRIS-T, amongst others,” Kofman added. You can read more about the establishment of mobile anti-drone teams by the Ukrainians here, as well as the contribution made by networks of acoustic sensors, to detect the drones, here.

The continued vulnerability of Russian airbases to long-range drone and missile attack has seen some unusual countermeasures fielded. These have included bombers and strike aircraft covered with tires, as well as dummy aircraft being painted on flight lines.

Overall, the efficiency of such expedients is highly questionable, not least because they don’t pass muster when examined even in lower-quality, commercially available satellite imagery. Nevertheless, the tires in particular may have some utility when it comes to spoofing certain missile guidance systems, something we’ve explored in the past.

However, one surefire way to ruin any hope of a painted aircraft decoy fooling the enemy is to part another aircraft directly on top of it.

This is exactly what has happened at Kirovskoe Airfield in Crimea, where a Russian Aerospace Forces helicopter — apparently a Ka-52 Hokum attack helicopter — was noted pared on top of a decoy Su-30 Flanker multirole fighter.

According to a U.K. Ministry of Defense intelligence update dated April 2, Russian helicopters “still regularly land on the painted decoy fighter silhouettes, completely undermining the deception attempt.”

While the identity of the weapons remains unconfirmed, it has been claimed that the following video shows the French-supplied AASM Hammer precision-guided bomb, from the perspective of Russian troops under attack by the unique rocket-boosted munition. The weapon appeared for the first time in Ukrainian service on a MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter last month. The footage was purportedly taken by a Russian soldier in the settlement of Tonenke, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. 

The platform of choice for a number of Western-supplied air-to-ground weapons, as well as the AASM Hammer, the MiG-29 is seen in the next video armed with the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, or HARM. Two of the jets make a low-level pass, both armed with the U.S.-supplied radar-killing missile.

Russian air-launched munitions next, and a better view of the UMPK guided glide bomb kit mated with the 1,102-pound ODAB-500OF. The ODAB (Obyomno-Detoniruyushchaya Aviatsionnaya Bomba) series are fuel-air explosive (or thermobaric) bombs to defeat soft-skinned materiel and personnel, as well as for clearing minefields. A new Russian Ministry of Defense video shows one or more Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft armed with UMPK-equipped ODAB-500OF bombs at Morozovsk Air Base. 

Previously, UMPK kits have also been mated with cluster bombs and very heavy 6,614-pound FAB-3000 bomb bodies.

Among the latest footage to emerge showing Ukrainian first-person-view (FPV) drones in action is this example, said to be from the Donetsk region, and showing the effects of one of the drones equipped with a thermobaric warhead. The power of the detonation is enough to totally demolish the Russian-held house into which it is flown.

The next video shows a more familiar FPV drone-versus-tank scenario, seen from the perspective of Russian forces. The blast that results from the drone strike is notably large, indicating that the ammunition rapidly “cooked off,” sending debris high into the air and over a wide area.

The Russian BMP infantry fighting vehicle in the next video appears to have survived an FPV drone attack unscathed, but the same cannot be said for the troops riding atop the hull of the vehicle, some of whom took the worst of the detonation. The incident apparently happened somewhere in the Donetsk region.

Ukraine is reportedly looking at new ways to confront the threat posed by Russian drones. Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation, has announced a project to develop a drone interceptor. The key requirements include a speed of 100-150km/h (62-93 miles per hour) and an altitude of up to 1,500 meters (4,921 feet). The interceptor will be primarily intended to hunt Russian battlefield reconnaissance drones, including the Orlan, SuperCam, and ZALA types.

Another example of Ukrainian drones in action shows uncrewed ground vehicles (UGVs) being used to attack Russian trench positions. The UGVs are used to transport mines or other kinds of explosive charges to the Russian positions, before they are remotely detonated.

Our previous Situation Report included a video showing the destruction of a modern Russian T-90M tank by a U.S.-designed M67 grenade dropped by a hovering drone. Now we have another video showing the demise of a T-90M — also known as the Proryv-3 (Breakthrough-3) — and the most technologically advanced and capable main battle tank to have been used by Russia in Ukraine. 

The new footage, posted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, shows a T-90M destroyed by a drone, which gets the better of its anti-drone ‘cope cage’ and its electronic warfare system. The ministry claims that a single $15 grenade delivered by the drone was enough to destroy the tank, which it says was worth $4.8 million. The full story of the engagement is not clear, although the tank appears to have been abandoned before the drone delivered the coup de grace.

The T-90M in the next video fared only a little better.

Reportedly seen in the Avdiivka area of the Donetsk region, the tank is seen from the perspective of Russian troops driving past. Exactly what happened to the T-90M — and what happened next — is unclear, but it’s seen still operating despite being on fire. 

Finally, the gruesome image embedded here provides evidence of what seems to have been a very luck escape for one Russian soldier. In this case, the ballistic protection offered by the soldier’s helmet was enough to reduce the velocity of the bullet sufficiently that they survived — despite the projectile passing clean through the helmet and into their forehead.

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