An infrared image captures the fateful moment when a drone attack decimated the Il-76 aircraft on a Russian base.

Title: Ukrainian Drone Attack Damages Russian Airbase in Pskov Oblast

Subtitle: Il-76 Candid Heavy-Lift Aircraft Destroyed, Operation Likely Launched from Inside Russia

Date: August 29, 2023

Byline: Howard Altman

Word Count: 1058

New satellite images obtained by The War Zone reveal significant damage caused by a Ukrainian drone attack on the Kresty airbase in Pskov Oblast during the night of August 29. The attack resulted in the destruction of at least two Il-76 Candid heavy-lift aircraft, with two others sustaining severe damage. The images also captured the moment when one of the planes was attacked, as seen through an infrared camera.

Post-attack images from Planet Labs clearly depict the charred remains of the destroyed Candid aircraft, while two other images show damage to the tops of their fuselages where the wings are attached. It is essential to note these images were taken immediately after the attack and indicate the extent of damage caused. Another image shows a completely burnt-out Il-76 Candid on the base, further affirming the severity of the attack.

Analysis of additional images taken on August 31 clearly demonstrates the damage inflicted on the two Candid aircraft with damage to the upper part of the fuselage. Comparing these images to those captured on August 16, experts identified unique burn marks that were absent on any transport planes prior to the attack.

Major General Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR), confirmed that the drones used in the attack were launched from within Russia. However, he did not provide specifics regarding the type and number of drones used nor the individuals responsible for the attack. Nonetheless, the evidence from infrared camera footage strongly indicates the use of bombs dropped by drones under local control. General Budanov’s statement supports the belief that the attack was carried out near the base and not by long-range autonomous drones.

The attack raises concerns about the effectiveness of Russia’s defensive measures against drone operations over their national airbase facilities. Past attacks on Russian bases, such as the Stoltsy-2 airbase, prompted increased patrols and intelligence efforts to identify collaborators and potential equipment used in such attacks. However, the vulnerability of the Kresty airbase suggests that defensive measures may not be as robust as those implemented in bomber bases.

The Il-76 Candid heavy-lift aircraft hold significant importance for Russia’s military aviation capability, playing a similar role to the US Air Force’s C-17 planes. General Budanov states that the Ukrainian GUR specifically targeted these planes due to their good condition and use in transporting military cargo and Airborne Division paratroopers.

The Kresty airbase houses the 334th Military Transport Aviation Regiment, operating Il-76s since 1979. With an estimated fleet of around 20 aircraft, the damage to four of these transports poses a significant setback. The Russian Air Force operates approximately 100 operational Il-76s, further demonstrating the potential impact of the attack on Russia’s ability to airlift cargo and troops.

Open-source tracking group Oryx confirms the destruction of two Candid aircraft at the base, while two others are listed as “damaged beyond economic repair.” It is unclear from the available satellite imagery whether the damaged airframes can be salvaged.

The attack on the Kresty airbase, located roughly 430 miles northwest of the Ukrainian border near Estonia, is likely to have a lasting impact on Russia’s military operations. As the conflict between Ukraine and Russia wages on, it is probable that similar attacks targeting Russia’s airbases will continue.

The full extent of the damage caused by the attack and its implications for Russia’s military capabilities will be closely monitored in the coming days.