Around a week after a Russian Lancet-3 loitering munition destroyed a parked Ukrainian Air Force (UAF) fighter, another MiG-29 jet was hit in the same way and, coincidentally, in the same region where the UAF air bases are located.
The attacks are another landmark moment for drone warfare in general and Russian and Iranian kamikaze UAVs like the Lancet and the Shahed-136 in particular, that have consistently redefined warfare throughout multiple stages in the war.
But the threat to aircraft, although the ones parked on the ground and not in classic aerial combat, is a paradigm moment. It is a different matter that a new generation of Iranian loitering munition drones are also moving in that direction, as explained subsequently in this copy.
Another MiG-29 Hit by a Lancet-3
The latest incident shows a thermal imaging video from an overhead drone, possibly a Sirius ISR drone, showing a drone coming in and hitting a parked aircraft on the ground. A big explosion follows. Multiple Telegram groups claimed this was a Lancet-3 striking a MiG-29.
🇺🇦✖️ Media: another Ukrainian MiG-29 fighter was destroyed at the Dolgintsevo airfield
Military correspondents publish a video of a night attack on the Dolgintsevo airfield in the Dnepropetrovsk region from a quadrocopter.
❗️ Earlier, in the same place, the Russian Lancet… pic.twitter.com/lr3sVYkv6l
— Zlatti71 (@djuric_zlatko) September 25, 2023
The Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) later confirmed the incident. “The Russian Aerospace Forces have destroyed one MiG-29 fighter of the Ukrainian Air Force (UAF) close to Dolgintsevo airfield in the Dnepropetrovsk region. The strike is believed to have taken place in the intervening time between September 24 to September 25.
⚡️🇷🇺🇺🇦 Another Ukrainian Mig-29 fighter jet was destroyed at the Dolgintsevo airfield by a Lancet that crossed almost 80km at night
It follows the remarkable daylight destruction of a Mig-29 on the same airfield exactly a week ago pic.twitter.com/TgUAXUxWhR
— What the media hides. (@narrative_hole) September 25, 2023
Other Telegram posts claimed that the attack took place in the nighttime and was filmed from a quadcopter. But these details could not be confirmed.
Why Hasn’t Ukraine Relocated Aircraft?
The last strike occurred at the Dolgintsevo airfield, which led to the inference that the Ukrainians may move their fighters deeper into western or central Ukraine. This was because since the base was 65 kilometers from the frontline, the new Lancet-3 variant that, reports claimed, had an increased range than the original 40-kilometer reach, would necessitate such a move.
Why that hasn’t happened is not clear. Neither is it known if the air base of the second strike is the actual Dolgintsevo airfield from the last attack. The RuMoD has, however, been clear that the location is “close” to the Dolgintsevo airfield, implying there are two UAF air bases in Dolgintsevo.
Drone Vs. Aircraft Could Be The Future?
Previous incidents of UAVs hitting jets, causing them to be shot down or striking them on the ground, include the first-of-its-kind incident on September 19 incident at the tarmac of the Dolgintsevo air base near Kryvyi Rih (Dnepropetrovsk region).
The video briefly showed footage from the nose CCD camera of the Lancet approaching the parked MiG-29 from an angle. An overhead drone then captures the rest of the strike, where the UAV impacts the front right side of the aircraft, beside the nose and the cockpit area.
Prior to that, on October 12-13 last year, a video showing a Ukrainian MiG-29 shooting down a Shahed-136 (Geran-2), probably using its cannons, itself came down, possibly due to shrapnel from the exploding UAV.
In a Facebook post, the Ukrainian Air Force confirmed that a fighter jet of one of the tactical aviation brigades crashed near Vinnytsia while carrying out a combat mission to destroy enemy kamikaze drones, ‘Shahed-136.’
The Air Force said that the fighter jet crashed because of an unspecified technical malfunction that led the pilot to lose control of the aircraft. Nevertheless, the pilot managed to eject and is currently hospitalized.
It can be safe to say that the MiG-29 pilot had to use his guns, since the slow-moving drone, with no jet exhaust or on-board radar, doesn’t give out infrared or Radio Frequency (RF) emission for Air-to-Air Missiles (AAM) to lock on to.
Thus, having to come close and use guns like in a dogfight poses its own risks. In the future, it can be assumed that such a situation will arise as drones proliferate and become commonplace. In fact, with drone swarm control technology advancing, there could be drones exclusively meant to harass and confuse enemy jets and affect these very situations.
Iran’s Anti-Aircraft Loitering Munition
Such a technology and tactic already seems to have been envisaged by Iran, which has introduced the Product 358 anti-aircraft loitering munition, first unveiled during Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu’s visit to Iran last week.
An odd, first-of-its-kind concept, the leading handle Iran Defense that covers the Persian nation’s military issues on X (formerly Twitter) called it “essentially a regular loitering munition like Lancet.” “Replace the engine with a micro turbojet and add a proximity fuse against aerial targets. Very effective against drones and helicopters,” it said in a thread. “The UAV has an imaging infrared (IIR) seeker for guidance,” it added.
US’s AAM Firing Drone
US defense major General Atomics, too, is slated to begin testing its air-launched LongShot drone. The UAV can be launched from a fighter jet and be capable of firing air-to-air weapons. Being developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), LongShot will enable fighter jets to engage enemy threats from safer standoff ranges than currently possible.
“According to General Atomics, the air-launched LongShot drone would close the gap to take more effective missile shots, significantly increasing engagement range and the mission effectiveness of current 4th gen fighters,” said a report on Aerospace Testing.
However, This project is still far from operationalization since it is a part of the larger ‘loyal wingman’ concept, which is still being developed. The prototypes of such UAVs are only rolling out and achieving semi-autonomous flight while being controlled from the ground.
The next stage has been expected to be loyal wingman drones striking ground targets before releasing AAMs on behalf of the commanding fighter, which is a far more technologically, kinematically and tactically complex undertaking.