Moscow drone attack: what weapons were used and what were they targeting?

The recent drone attack was meant to wreak havoc among the Russian elites, experts say

Moscow drone attack: what weapons were used and what were they targeting?

A residential building damaged in the drone attack on the morning of 30 May, Moscow. Photo: EPA-EFE / MAXIM SHIPENKOV

A mass-scale drone attack was reported in Moscow and the Moscow region on 30 May. Three drones crashed into high-rise residential buildings in Moscow and its outskirts. Georgy Aleksandrov spoke with experts to make sense of what happened, what weapons were used, and what the main goals of the attack may be.

Eight drones or more?

The Russian Defence Ministry claimed that all eight drones that targeted Moscow and the Moscow region had been downed. Five of them were destroyed by Pantsir-S missile systems in the Moscow region, while three more were neutralised with the use of electronic warfare systems. However, the Baza Telegram channel reported that up to 25 UAVs could have been used in the attack.

One of the drones hit a 25-storey building in Greater Moscow, shattering the windows on several floors and damaging a concrete floor slab panel.

The second drone broke a window of a 16-storey building in southwest Moscow. The drone carried a KZ-6 demolition charge that did not go off. This type of charge can blast through walls and floor slabs made of steel and reinforced concrete.

The third drone hit an apartment in another high-rise building in southwest Moscow. It also carried KZ-6 demolition charges that failed to explode. Local officials had to evacuate about 300 residents. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin reported that three people had to seek onsite medical attention.

Residents of the Moscow region heard explosions in the area of Odintsovo and Krasnogorsk, as well as near the M9 highway north of Moscow and the A106 highway to the west of Russia’s capital. The area along the A106 highway, known as Rublyovka, is one of the most prestigious districts in the Moscow suburbs: many Russian government officials and businesspeople have residences there.

Sat-nav systems were down in some areas of Moscow at the time of the attack, which suggests that electronic warfare systems were used to down the UAVs.

What drones were used in the attack?

New types of UAVs may have been used in the attack. Mash Telegram channel reports that one of the drones that was recorded flying over a village near the A106 highway is thought to be an improved version of Ukraine’s A-2 Sinitsya drone. The UAV that was seen in the sky over Moscow is larger in size and has an internal combustion engine in place of an electrical one, which clearly increases its range that used to be no longer than 100 km. These drones are produced in Kharkiv.

Alexey Rogozin, head of the Centre for the Development of Transport Technologies (and son of Dmitry Rogozin, former chief of Russian space agency Roscosmos) wrote on his Telegram channel that previously unknown fixed-wing UAVs with a “duck aerodynamic pattern” were used in the attack on Moscow. The duck pattern means that the wings of the drones were located near their rear. The same type of UAVs were used in the attack on Russia’s Krasnodar several days ago, Rogozin says.

“They have an internal combustion engine, a wingspan of at least 4 metres and a possible attack range of 400-1,000 km,” Rogozin wrote. “Their price is estimated at $30,000-200,000 per unit. Radio-electronic jammers are essentially useless against these drones, the only way to effectively combat them is to shoot them down.”

“Over 20 drones were used in the attack, including a modified version of UJ-22 Airborne, a drone produced by Ukrjet,” Roman Svitan, a flight instructor and Ukrainian reserve colonel, told Novaya-Europe. “It’s also possible that a new fixed-wing model with similar features was used. I am confident that the attack targeted military industrial facilities located in Moscow and the Moscow region. These facilities are located in the Russian capital and in the many towns surrounding it. This is where the missiles that Russians attack Ukraine with are produced.”

According to Svitan, several months ago, Ukraine launched mass production of low-cost drones, which means that next time even more UAVs — possibly dozens — can be deployed in a similar attack. The main goal of such operations is to overload Russia’s air defences and make sure more drones reach their target.

“This type of kamikaze drone can carry up to 20 kg of explosives to a distance of up to 1,500 km, which is quite enough to strike poorly fortified targets, such as fuel depots and warehouses storing combustible substances for ammunition. This has already happened many times in different regions of Russia,” the expert continues. “These UAVs can be launched from deep within the Ukrainian rear.”

“Despite reaching a relatively low speed of 100-150 km/h, they can evade radars and bypass the areas where Russian air defence systems are active,”

he adds.

Sergey Migdal, military expert and former Israeli police and security service officer, agrees that the UJ-22 Airborne drone was most likely used in the attack. “As far as we know, Ukraine is currently developing larger-size drones, but this time, based on the footage I’ve seen, we’re dealing with an Airborne,” the expert notes. “This model has a very recognisable shape.”

Why did the drones crash into high-rise buildings? Roman Svitan suggests that this could be the work of Russian air defence and electronic warfare systems or a result of natural factors. A drone can change its trajectory and altitude depending on wind speed. Besides, Svitan points out that it is impossible to take note of every high-rise building that might come in the drone’s way, especially considering that it flies at a very low altitude, often manoeuvring between buildings.

Air defence missiles may pose more danger to civilians

Military expert Sergey Migdal is confident that the Russian strategic air defence system is not designed to detect and destroy drones. The problem is that radars are not very good at identifying such aircraft, which are usually made of plastic and don’t have a lot of metal details. Numerous observation posts are required to effectively detect them by using sound and vision. Moscow is a huge city, which means that it is practically impossible to protect it from drone attacks using this system, the analyst says.

“These targets are downed by the Pantsir anti-aircraft missile and gun complex, which can hit drones that have nearly reached their target,” Sergey Migdal points out. “In this case, fragments of a downed drone or even its unexploded demolition charge could fall nearby.”

Roman Svitan is confident that Russian air defence systems installed in the centre of Moscow pose more danger for civilians than the attacking drones themselves. The range of air defence systems is only several dozens of kilometres, and the missiles and munitions that did not reach their targets are very likely to fall on residential areas. “The missiles used in many air defence systems are filled with dozens of thousands of striking elements,” Svitan explains. “We can see what happens when these munitions explode in the areas where Russia uses them as surface-to-surface weapons. These are very dangerous types of weapons. Especially for the citizens who didn’t find cover in time.”

Sergey Migdal agrees that air defence systems can pose a danger to the defending party. The expert mentions Israel’s Iron Dome system: the debris of missiles used to down the attacking munitions sometimes fall on the streets of residential areas.

A wake-up call for Russian elites

A source in the Russian Armed Forces told Novaya-Europe that at least two drones had been taken down near the A106 highway in the suburbs of Moscow where many members of the Russian elites reside. The drones were downed less than 10 km from Vladimir Putin’s official residence in Novo-Ogaryovo.

“One drone was downed over the village of Funkovo near Zvenigorod,” our source says. “The second one reached the Petrovo-Dalneye village, just several kilometres away from Putin’s residence.”

“We don’t know how this drone managed to breach all our defence lines. This territory is protected on the same level as the Moscow Kremlin.”

Sergey Migdal points out that the attacking side’s main goal was to put psychological pressure on the people at the top of the Russian government. “They managed to shake many government and law enforcement officials, to wreak havoc among them,” the Israeli expert suggests. “This is why the attack took place during daytime, so that people could hear and see the drones flying over them. Basically, their message is: nobody is outside of Ukraine’s range. Had the attack targeted the Russian Defence Ministry facilities, the damage would have likely been insignificant. But striking the place where the Russian elites live has a greater impact in the media. And although the Russian media tries not to discuss these attacks in too much detail, the residents of these elite communities are already succumbing to panic.”

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