Long-range drones, or how Russian oil depots are burning

3 May 2024 10 minutes Author: Cyber Witcher

Strategic drones strike at important targets on enemy territory, including ammunition depots, production areas, and oil refineries. Long-range drones can cover hundreds and thousands of kilometers, for example, Shahed-129, which covers up to 1,700 km. We turned to charitable foundations that collect funds for such drones and ensure their transfer to units. Long-range drones have shown their effectiveness, as, for example, during an attack on an oil depot in the Smolensk region or an attack on an oil refinery in Tatarstan. The article analyzes why long-range drones are necessary and their role in warfare.

Ukrainians are collecting funds for attack drones

The Armed Forces of Ukraine are creating a new kind of troops — forces of unmanned systems. As the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky noted: Unmanned systems have proven their effectiveness in battles on land, in the sky and at sea. Ukraine has really changed the security situation in the Black Sea thanks to drones.” On April 20, information appeared that the Russians had moved missile carriers to the Caspian Sea, hiding them from drones.

Since 2014, when Russia started a war against Ukraine, volunteers have been actively collecting funds for various needs of the armed forces. It was the volunteer movement that drew attention to the need to develop unmanned systems. To date, the fund has collected billions of hryvnias for various types of unmanned systems.

The development of long-range UAVs requires innovation, technical capabilities, but first of all, a lot of money. During 2022–2023, Ukrainians donated a lot for drones. In the first 9 months of 2023, the three largest funds collected 12.5 billion hryvnias. The United24 platform received 7.94 billion hryvnias, or 63% of the total volume of donations. The “Return Alive” fund received a little more than 3 billion hryvnias, and the Serhiy Prytula fund collected about 1.5 billion hryvnias.​​​​

The largest share of the collected funds was spent on the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), in particular, the United24 platform sent 7.06 billion hryvnias, which is 89% of the total amount collected.​​

According to these data, the largest amount of donations among all types of drones was collected for UJ-26 Beaver drones. Source: news in mass media, Telegram channels, and insiders.

Molfar analysts calculated that as of December 30, 2023, 33 funds and private initiatives were collecting funds for drones. Here we are talking about long-range drones that can fly over 500 km. So the total amount was UAH 844 million (only the amount of fees for the UJ-22 and Migun-5 / Migun-5 pro drones from the “Drone Army” is unknown). The probable number of purchased drones is 267 pieces (except for the “Army of Drones” and “Black Box” – how many drones were purchased as part of these projects is unknown).

Separately, bloggers — Vlad Shevchenko (UAH 10 million), Dmytro Govorenko’s Govor Help fund (UAH 20 million), and FUIB Bank together with the SBU (UAH 60 million) collected for remote drones.

Let’s briefly consider which drones were collected for:

  • The UJ-22 Airborne is a multi-role drone. It was adopted in 2020. Produced by the UKRDJET company.

  • The UJ-26 Beaver is a long-range, barrage munition.

  • “Rubaka” is a barrage munition. Can fly 500 km.

  • Morok is long-range, can fly 800 km.

Regarding the damage that Russia has already suffered as a result of long-range drone attacks. Currently, it is known that the economy of the aggressor state has lost 12% of oil production and processing. There is information in the media that Russia is asking Kazakhstan for 100k tons of gasoline. Military action and long-range drone strikes appear to pose additional challenges to the terrorist nation’s economy.

At the same time, in March, the US allegedly asked Ukraine to stop attacks on Russian refineries, saying that this could raise world oil prices and provoke Russian retaliation. Such information was spread, in particular, by the Financial Times. Subsequently, this news was published by several Ukrainian mass media.

How successful are Ukrainian drone attacks?

Let’s consider several recent and well-known cases when drones attacked the territory of Russia. We took into account public cases in the period from 06/22/2022 to 12/30/2023. Let’s consider a few of them.

Oil plant in Kardymovo

On April 20, 2024, drones visited 7 regions of Russia at once. A fire broke out at an oil depot in the Smolensk region near the village of Kardymovo. The Russians themselves announced the successful downing of 50 drones. At the same time, videos that appeared on social networks show that the oil depot is on fire. This refinery belongs to the Russian company Lukoil-Tsentrnefteprodukt LLC.

Photo of the fire in Kardimovo. Source: Russian Telegram channel

Belarusian opposition media spread information that this oil base was used as a logistics hub between Russia and Belarus.

Shahed factory-warehouse in Yelabuz

On the morning of April 2, unknown drones attacked the city of Yelabuga, where the Russians produce Shahid. Two explosions were reported. This is the first time when “cotton” was attacked in the depths of Russia. It is more than 1,200 km from the border with Ukraine. The target of the attack was an enterprise in the special economic zone “Alabuga”. According to media reports and research by Molfar analysts, the Shahid Kamikaze drone factory is located there.

The moment of the explosion in the city of Alabuga. Screenshot from the video

Attacks on Russian oil refineries in January

On January 24, 2024, SBU drones attacked an oil refinery in Tuapse, Krasnodar Territory. A fire started as a result of the attack. The capacity of this plant was 12 million tons per year. For comparison, a similar plant in Nizhny Novgorod processed 17 million tons per year (it was also attacked shortly before that). According to the NASDAQ exchange, oil refining in Tuapse has been stopped. As of the beginning of February, it has not been restored. No further references to the oil depot in Tuapse were found.

January was rich in “cotton” at Russian oil refineries. These attacks included strikes on an oil terminal in St. Petersburg on January 18, an attack on a Rosneft oil base in Bryansk region on January 19, and an attack on the Novatek terminal in the port of Ust-Luga, Leningrad Oblast.

Two dozen drones overnight — Nizhny Novgorod

On March 12, drones attacked fuel warehouses in the Oryol Region. The attack caused a fire at a fuel depot located approximately 100 miles from the border with Ukraine. The attack was also aimed at a fuel and energy complex in the city of Kstovo, Nizhnegorod Region.

A fire after a drone strike in the Russian city of Kstovo, Nizhny Novgorod. Photo source themoscowtimes

The media wrote that the Russians were attacked by more than two dozen Ukrainian drones at that time. Two of them flew all the way to the Moscow region.

Why are long-range drones important?

According to Military media specialists, drones are classified as follows:

  • Tactical;

  • operational-tactical;

  • operative;

  • strategic.

When this article refers to “long-range drones”, we mean drones capable of flying 500 km or more. However, it is worth noting that the flight range of the drone also depends on the weather and wind strength. Drones do not fly in a straight line and can change their route, so the distance to the target can be shorter and the route longer.

Long-range drones are distinguished by the ability to cover significant distances without returning to the launch point. This is achieved through the use of efficient batteries, powerful engines and optimized aerodynamic characteristics.

One of the key characteristics of long-range drones is their ability to maintain stable communication with operators over long distances, enabling real-time monitoring and data collection. This is achieved thanks to modern communication and data transmission systems.

This type of drone allows for long-range reconnaissance behind the front line and gathers vital information about the movement and deployment of enemy forces. This allows the Ukrainian military to make informed decisions and plan operations based on the current situation.

Long-range drones can be used to strike far behind the front line at important enemy facilities and positions. Also, the use of long-range drones means a reduction of risks for the civilian population, which, for example, is located in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.

Ukrainian long-range drones

Among the most famous Ukrainian reconnaissance models are the SHARK, Leleka-100, Furia and Valkyrie drones, as well as the PD-2, known as the People’s Drone. Their primary purpose is to detect enemy positions and adjust artillery fire, particularly using long-range systems like HIMARS.

One of the most mysterious projects is the Ukrainian kamikaze drone “Beaver”, developed by the UkrJet company. Its flight range can reach 1,000 kilometers, although official data on this matter is not made public.

There are suggestions that these drones were involved in the attacks on Tatarstan and Yelabuga in particular. There were also reports of the discovery in the capital of Russia of devices similar to the UkrJet product — the UJ-22 Airborne. Another Ukrainian development in the field of kamikaze drones is “RUBAKA”, about which there is currently no open information.

What do charitable foundations say about the production and development of their own drones in Ukraine?

The Serhiy Prytula Foundation notes that over the past three years, Ukraine has made significant progress in the production of drones. At the time of the full-scale invasion, there were up to 20 UAV manufacturers in Ukraine, today there are more than 150 of them.

Ukrainian manufacturers produce various types of drones, including reconnaissance aircraft, reusable bombers and kamikaze drones. New FPV gliders with a flight range of up to 50 km have already been developed. This can increase the possibility of penetrating the enemy’s rear and cause significant damage to Russian troops.

At the same time, he adds that more drones are still needed. However, there is progress: in 2022, Ukrainian units received all their UAVs only from volunteers, but now the state is actively involved in this process.

However, the successful use of long-range drones requires constant innovation and technological improvements. Therefore, the “Come Back Alive” Foundation pays attention to the quality of components. But he also draws attention to the rapid development of the production of long-range drones.

According to representatives of the “Return Alive” foundation, the Russian Shahed is probably the biggest threat at the moment. The foundation says that these UAVs are massive and effectively perform their function. At the same time, their cost is relatively low. Here it is worth noting that Ukraine is slowly, but nevertheless, establishing the production of analogues of Russian drones. In particular, launch the production of drones similar to Russian “lancets”.

Evaluating the effectiveness of kamikaze drones and attack drones, representatives of the Come Back Alive Foundation shared their experience with the Black Box project: in November 2022, the foundation collected 230 million U.S. dollars. on a project aimed at reducing the enemy’s offensive capabilities. “In cooperation with the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, the Fund purchased Ukrainian Beaver drones.

The effectiveness of modern drones will prove their necessity on the battlefield. Volunteers play a key role in meeting the operational needs of the armed forces. They quickly respond to urgent needs and fill gaps where the state needs more time. Volunteers actively finance the purchase and delivery of drones. There is evidence of effective cooperation between the state and the volunteer movement.

Strategic strikes on the territory of the Russian aggressor were successful, reducing Russian production potential by 12%. In Ukraine, a group of volunteers is actively financing the purchase and transfer of these drones to the military. We are also seeing the development and expansion of independent long-range drone production that has been identified by charitable foundations.

The information was taken from Molfar open sources

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