Tu-22 Backfire Destroyed In Drone Strike Deep Inside Russia

Soltsy-2 airbase, which is home to Russian Tu-22M3 Backfire swing-wing bombers, was hit by a drone strike yesterday. Images of black smoke billowing from the base further solidified those reports, but it wasn’t clear what was burning. Now, photos have emerged that show a Tu-22M3 engulfed in flames at the base.

The images first appeared on Telegram and have since made their way onto other social media platforms. Russian MoD has said one unspecified aircraft was damaged due to a drone attack, stating the following on its Telegram channel:

“At around 10:00 Moscow time today, the Kiev regime carried out a terrorist attack using a copter type UAV against a military airfield in Novgorod region.

▫ The UAV was detected by the airfield’s observation outpost and was hit with small arms fire.

▫ As a result of the terrorist attack, a fire broke out in the airfield parking lot, which was promptly extinguished by firefighting teams.

▫ One airplane was damaged; there were no casualties as a result of the terrorist act.”

The installation sits roughly 115 miles south of St. Petersburg, 315 miles west of Moscow, and 100 miles east of NATO member Estonia. This puts it about 415 miles north of the border of Ukraine. Kyiv’s long-range drone arsenal has expanded dramatically in recent months, with regular attacks on Moscow now a reality.

There have also been sabotage attacks on Russian airfields far from Ukraine and the possibility of the use of smaller drones for localized attacks by such teams has been a major threat.

Tu-22M3s seen at the Soltsy-2 base just four days ago on August 16th, 2023. PHOTO © 2023 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION
Soltsy-2 airbase as seen on August 16th, 2023. PHOTO © 2023 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION

The Soviet-era Tu-22Ms have been a major problem for Ukraine since not long after Russia’s all-out invasion of the country. They have been used to launch old supersonic Kh-22s and newer Kh-32 variants — which are primarily heavy anti-ship missiles — against Ukrainian targets. The high speeds of these missiles meant Ukraine had little defense against them, until the Patriot air defense system arrived. However, Ukrainian Patriots are still few in number and primarily cover the capital, Kyiv. The first video of Kh-22/Kh-32 missiles being launched at Ukrainian targets emerged in May 2022.

These huge missiles are not that accurate and have hit civilian targets with horrible results, including striking a mall and a high-rise apartment building. According to Ukrainian prosecutors, the latter attack was executed by the same bomber unit hit by the drone strike yesterday,

Tu-22Ms were produced between 1969 and 1993, with over 500 examples built. Today, Russia’s long-range bomber force features about 60 Tu-22M3 bombers at three operational bases — Belaya, Olenyegorsk, and Shaykovka — plus additional aircraft at the Ryazan training base. So, hitting just one would be a significant loss for Russia.

Tu-22M3 with a Kh-22/32 under its wing. (Dmitriy Pichugin via Wikicommons)

Taking vengeance on Russia’s bomber force via long-range drones has been a Ukrainian tactic for some time, but we have seen attempts to strike these high-value assets decline as Kyiv’s ability to reach Moscow solidified.

If this attack was executed by a small quadcopter, or another hobbyist or commercially available drone type, as the Russian MoD indicates, it will have sent a chill through the country’s aerospace forces out west. Defending against these types of local attacks is very tough to do persistently and this one is also a reminder that teams with this intent and capability are operating deep inside Russia far from Ukraine’s borders.

We will update this post with new information over the next 12 hours.

Contact the author: tyler@thedrive.com