Colonel: Cold War era drones may have been used for Russian airfield attack

Colonel Mart Vendla.
Colonel Mart Vendla. Source: ERR

Speaking on ETV show "Ukraina stuudio," Colonel Mart Vendla, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), Ukraine may have used Cold War-era Kharkiv-built TU-141 reconnaissance drones to attack airfields in Russia's Ryazan and Saratov oblasts.

Up to now, the Ukrainians have not claimed responsibility for the attacks on Russian military airfields, however they do have the capability Vendla said.

"The Ukrainians are distancing themselves from this and that is understandable. But they have also not claimed involvement in the Kerch bridge attack either. Everyone is aware, but no one is saying anything. However, if we look at Ukraine's military potential, it was the center of aeronautical engineering during Soviet times. Under no circumstances should we underestimate the technical know-how of the Ukrainians," he said.

According to Vendla, the Ukrainians could build new models of drone as well as use those spy drones, which were made during the Soviet era.

"On the one hand, we cannot rule out that Ukraine has a new drone, which is capable of flying up to 1,000 kilometers, as was earlier reported in the Ukrainians' own press release," Vendla said.

"It is also quite possible that it was the TU-141, which is a Ukrainian production, originally from in Kharkiv. Between 140 and 150 of them were produced. It was designed as a strategic reconnaissance drone during the Cold War, with an operating radius of about 1,000 kilometers and used until the early 2000s," said Vendla, explaining that the TU-141 was reintroduced by Ukraine following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and described its deployment now as fairly likely.

According to Vendla, Ukraine's attack on Russian airfields certainly caused a lot of headaches for Russia, however, credit must also go to Ukraine.

"If you look at the line of conflict between Ukraine and Russia, it is dotted with different air defense systems. To fly something out of there on a 700 kilometer route, without being seen, is a very good tactical job. /.../ It will certainly disturb (Russia)," Vendla said.

"Those TU-95s (bombers reportedly destroyed by Ukraine – ed.), were being tightened up just before the operation. At that point they were vulnerable and so one can assume, and the Russian side will also assume that it was not just a lucky coincidence," he said.

"Instead, there is an information network which is being used as the basis from which plans are being worked on and created. This will not allow them to sleep easily at night," Vendla said.

At the same time, the colonel said, we should be under no illusions that Russia the planes Russia removed from these airfields will not be brought back to use against Ukraine.

"If these planes were taken away after the first wave of strikes, they will be brought back because this is the type of infrastructure Russia needs. They just need to invest more in sensors and shooters," said Vendla.

"I's a zero-sum game. If something can be taken out of the combat zone, that in turn will have an impact on the Ukrainians," he said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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