The Poor Man’s Air Force? Rebel Drones Attack Russia’s Airbase in Syria
By Nick Waters
On the night of the 6 January 2018, the Russian airbase at Khmeimim was reportedly attacked. Videos and rumours from the airbase claimed that this attack may have included drones, although there were also reports the base coming under attack by rockets. These reports were interesting for two reasons. Firstly, the frontline was approximately 35 kilometres away, and therefore out of the range of most of the kind of artillery available to the rebels. Secondly, independent Russian newspaper Kommersant claimed that the same base had come under mortar attack on 31 December 2017, destroying four Su-24, two Su-35S and an An-72 military transport aircraft. This incident would have been the worst loss of equipment the Russian military had experience since the beginning of the conflict. This report of a mortar attack and damage inflicted attracted immediate skepticism, given the distance from the front lines and a variety of other factors such as the level of damage inflicted. The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) denied that seven planes had been destroyed, but did state that two servicemen had been killed by “sudden mortar fire”. However, there was also speculation that this attack could have been carried out by small drones, of the kind that so-called Islamic State (IS) have used so effectively.
The speculation around the attack on New Year’s Eve was strengthened when the Russian MoD released a statement and images of improvised drones that they claimed had attacked Russian bases in Khmeimim and Tartus on the night of January 6. This article will use open source methods to examine the circumstances around these drones, the attacks they took part in and the possibility they may have been responsible for theNew Year’s Eve attack against Khmeimim.
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