Why Ukraine is able to embarrass Russia's air defense systems, among the most advanced in the world, with small drones

  • Recent drone attacks in Russia have exposed weaknesses in the country's advanced air defenses.

  • Most of these were built to identify and destroy targets like missiles, a drone expert said.

  • As a result, smaller drones have been able to evade detection and strike targets on Russian soil.

Recent drone attacks across Russia have exposed the country's supposedly sophisticated air defense systems as they struggle to account for the relatively small, hard-to-detect drones, an analyst told Insider.

"Russia boasted of having layered defenses before the war, the sensor electronic warfare, different missile batteries, kinetic batteries, radars, that can sort of identify and interdict the threat," Samuel Bendett, an analyst and expert in unmanned and robotic military systems at the Center for Naval Analyses, said.

But he added that "most of these defenses were built to identify and destroy larger targets like missiles, helicopters, aircraft. Many were not really geared towards identifying much smaller UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]."

Drone warfare has been an integral part of the conflict in Ukraine, with both sides regularly exploiting the technology as part of their military strategies.

The recent spate of attacks on Russian soil, however, are likely to be embarrassing for one of the world's foremost military powers.

Airfields and other locations deep within Russian territory have been pummeled in multiple strikes by exploding drone attacks in recent weeks — with one flurry, on the night of August 29, striking five separate locations.

In a spectacular attack, Ukrainian drones bombarded an airport in the city of Pskov in north-west Russia, blasting four  Ilyushin Il-76 military transport planes, according to state media outlet TASS.

The UK's Ministry of Defence called it "the largest attack on Russia since the start of the conflict."


Russian air defense systems, which are among the most advanced in the world, are used by dozens of countries, and many have developed variations of them, according to the Center for Strategic and International studies.

The defenses operate on a "three-tier" system, layering weapons with different ranges to make it hard to penetrate, the think tank said.

But these systems, while advanced, are not infallible.

In July, drones struck and damaged two non-residential buildings in the center of Moscow, despite the neighboring building having a super-advanced Pantsir S-1 missile system on its roof, a report said.

"Such defenses are never absolute, there are always going to be gaps that will be exploited," Bendett said.

In an update on the Ukraine conflict on Thursday, the UK's Ministry of Defence said that the number of UAVs hitting their targets likely meant that Russia was struggling to detect and destroy them, and it would possibly force it to rethink its air defense strategy.

Bendett said that Ukraine had vastly improved its domestic drone production industry over the course of the war, and it was likely producing up to six different long-range drones that it could be using to strike Russia.

Ukraine can only use its own drones to strike inside Russia because of restrictions on using NATO weapons on Russian territory.

Read the original article on Business Insider