Even deep in Russia, Putin’s warplanes are no longer safe from drone strikes. A new protective measure by the regime is now causing experts to take a pause.
Since the attack on Ukraine, the Russian army has often attracted attention with desperate protective measures against Ukrainian attacks. For example, metal cages welded together should protect armored vehicles from the impact of kamikaze drones – the effect, however, is more than questionable. With a similar improvisation, the Russian air force is apparently reacting to the recent strikes against its bases in Russia.
Recent satellite images from Engels-2 Air Force Base, about 800 kilometers southeast of Moscow, show car tires covering the wings and parts of the fuselage of Tu-95 strategic bombers. Cruise missiles can be fired from the long-range bombers, which Russia uses to terrorize the Ukrainian population. The fighter jets would therefore be a worthwhile target for Kiev.
“It looks a bit silly”
Just last week, at least four Il-76 transport aircraft were damaged or destroyed in an attack on the Russian air base in Pskov near the Estonian border. It is unclear with what weapons Pskov was attacked. Various kamikaze drones are possible, but also cruise missiles developed by Ukraine, which could cover the distance of 700 kilometers between Pskov and the Ukrainian border. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy deliberately left that open after the attack.
Now experts are puzzling over whether car tires can actually protect the Russian bombers from further attacks.
“It looks a bit silly,” CNN quoted aviation and maritime expert Steffan Watkins as saying. “They’re really trying to do everything they can to better protect their planes. Whether it works depends on the type of drone or warhead being used to attack.”
For example, the car tires could change the heat signatures of the planes, says Watkins. Modern cruise missiles use this thermal signature for the final approach to their target object – if they do not recognize the programmed thermal image before impact, they abort the attack. “The planes can still be targeted with infrared cameras,” explains Watkins.
Engels-2 has already been attacked
According to a NATO official who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, the car tires should serve more as protection against drone attacks: “But we don’t know if that works,” he said. It is conceivable that the rubber tires actually protect the aircraft’s tanks from splinters and absorb the energy of a drone’s explosion.
However, the tires could increase the effect of an attack even more – if they catch fire. A small kamikaze drone could still smash through the punctured tires on the plane, after all. The protective measure is impractical in any case, since all tires have to be removed from the jets before a combat mission.
At the end of last year, the Engels-2 air force base was twice the target of attacks that were suspected to be from kamikaze drones. It is unclear whether and what damage was caused. At the time, Russia claimed that the attacks had been repelled. Engels-2 is one of two Russian strategic nuclear forces air bases, and several Tu-160 supersonic bombers are also stationed there. The base is about 500 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.