Ukraine’s drone swarms in Russian air bases destroyed ten aircraft and damaged eight aircraft, including Su-34, Su-35 and Be-200 amphibious aircraft

Stung by relentless Russian air strikes on its cities and front-line forces and struggling with shortages of missiles for ground-based air defence batteries, on April 5, Ukraine struck back. Swarms of long-range attack drones targeted three Russian air bases.

The drone strikes on Yeysk, Kursk and Engels-2 air bases—respectively 150km, 260km and 500km from the front line in Ukraine—inflicted some damage, but it’s hard to say how much damage.

The Ukrainian intelligence directorate told Kyiv Independent that eight Russian warplanes were damaged, if not destroyed. The Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies counted ten destroyed Russian Su-34 and Su-35 planes and eight damaged ones.

But satellite imagery confirms one damaged jet—a rare Beriev Be-200 jet-propelled amphibious aircraft. A new transport and search-and-rescue plane that can launch and land on water while carrying tons of cargo.

At least some of the drones that struck Yeysk, just across the Sea of Azov from southern Ukraine, exploded on the apron on the northeast edge of the base. The Russian navy had parked several of its planes there, including some turboprop and jet transports, a pair of Sukhoi fighter-bombers and one of the 30-ton twin-jet Be-200s.

Satellite imagery from Planet Labs, recorded after the drone raid, seems to depict damage to the parked Be-200, including a missing wing panel and a fuel leak.

The Russian navy got its first Be-200 four years ago and reportedly has three in its inventory, complementing a fast-shrinking fleet of very old propeller-driven Beriev Be-12 amphibians.

Maybe the damaged Be-200 is fixable. Maybe it’s a $40-millon write-off. In any event, it’s a tidy little victory for Ukraine’s growing drone strike force, which has been escalating its attacks on Russian air bases, headquarters and oil facilities as deep as 600 miles inside Russia.

The raids have suppressed Russian oil refining by around 10 percent, damaged the sole Russian factory producing Shahed attack drones and harassed and damaged Russian fighter regiments. And now, it seems, they’ve eliminated potentially a third of the Kremlin’s modern flying boats.

To be fair, the Be-200 the Ukrainians plinked at the Yeysk base might not be a navy Be-200. It could be a company plane, one of two the Beriev corporation apparently keeps on its rolls for tests.

Beriev has a factory at Yeysk where it builds big jets including the Be-200 and the A-50 radar early warning plane. After shooting down two of the nine or so A-50s in Russian air force service earlier this year, in March the Ukrainians targeted the Beriev factory—apparently hoping to destroy a damaged A-50 at the site.

It’s possible the Ukrainian drone operators were trying to hit the Be-200 in order to deprive the Russian navy of a precious search and transport asset. It’s also possible the operators were, once again, aiming for the Beriev production facilities.

Whether the flying boat was the target or just happened to be in the line of fire, its loss—whether permanent or temporary—further depletes the badly depleted Russian Black Sea Fleet and its supporting forces. Ukrainian missile and drone raids and sabotage have damaged or destroyed a quarter of the fleet’s big warships and several of its planes, including one rare flying boat.

And it will be difficult for the Russians to replace that flying boat while the factory that builds the type is under attack by the same exploding Ukrainian drones that took out the rare plane.

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