Russia relocates significant portion of strategic bombers to Murmansk

Recent satellite images of the Russian Olenya Air Base in the Murmansk region have made their way to the public. As of May 15, 2024, the images reveal a notable presence: 12 Tu-95MS strategic bombers, 13 Tu-22M3 strategic bombers, one Tu-160, and two An-12 military transport aircraft. 

Russia relocates significant portion of strategic bombers to Murmansk
Photo credit: Twitter

This development deserves special attention. Olenya Air Base is a pivotal location for the Russian Air Force [VKS or RuAF], especially during large-scale missile strikes on Ukraine. 

Drawing from evaluations from the UK’s Ministry of Defence and Russia’s General Intelligence Directorate, it’s estimated that around 40 Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 bombers remain in Russia’s strategic aviation units. This means that currently, Olenya Air Base is housing about a third of these war-ready bombers.

Russia relocates significant portion of strategic bombers to Murmansk
Photo credit: Twitter

New strikes are being prepared

Just to give you a bit of perspective, by the end of April this year, Mozdok airport was home to only six Tu-22M3s, which are also equipped to house strategic bombers. This really highlights Olenya’s growing significance as a long-range air base for the Russian Air Force. 

The placement of a third of the combat-ready Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 fleets at such a distant location doesn’t just suggest that Russia might be gearing up for new strikes on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. It also indicates a strategic move to shield their most valuable aircraft from potential long-range kamikaze drone attacks coming from the Defense Forces of Ukraine. 

Russia relocates significant portion of strategic bombers to Murmansk
Photo credit: Defense Express

Additionally, the two noted that An-12 military transports might have played a crucial role in moving cruise missiles to Olenya Airport, which could be vital for their operational planning.

Olenya Air Base is also a target

Despite its remote location, the Olenya air base in Russia isn’t out of reach for attacks from Ukrainian territory. The Ukrainian Armed Forces are equipped with the ability to strike from 3,300 km away. 

Earlier this April, a new kind of ammunition was added to Ukraine’s arsenal. The Ukraine Battle Map [UBM] resource reports on the Sokol-300, a newly developed, long-range drone crafted in Ukraine. This drone, which UBM notes has a design similar to the Bayraktar, is a significant addition to their defensive capabilities. 

The Sokol-300 measures 8.5 meters in length and boasts a wingspan that stretches up to 14 meters. It’s capable of carrying payloads as heavy as 300 kg. According to an infographic shared by UBM on Twitter, this drone can soar to altitudes of just over 9 km and has a striking range of 3,300 km [2,000 miles]. Yet, UBM asserts that the drone’s maximum flight height is actually 12 km. 

The 3,300 km range of the Sokol-300 is indeed remarkable. This distance encompasses the span from Ukraine’s border with Russia to at least 80 air bases situated deep in the Russian Arctic Circle in Murmansk.

What do we know about Sokol-300?

Engineers from the Luch Design Bureau have crafted the Sokol-300 attack drone with versatility in mind. It’s capable of being powered by different engines, including the Ukrainian MS-500-05C/CE and AI-450T2, as well as the Austrian Rotax 914. The drone’s take-off weight varies depending on the engine installed. Specifically, the Sokol version uses both the AI-450T2 and Rotax 914 engines. 

The control system features an inertial block and laser gyroscopes, developed by the “Arsenal” tool company. This high-tech drone is armed with RK-10, P2-M, and RK-2P missiles, which can strike targets up to 10 km away. Additionally, it can be outfitted with a synthetic aperture radar and a compact radar station. When scanning the ground from an altitude of 5 kilometers, the radar boasts an accuracy of 30×30 cm. The drone’s “eyes” are formed by the optic-electronic station from the Barrier-B ATGM. 

Ukraine built Sokol-300 UAV capable of attacking Russian Arctic bases
Video screenshot

Notably, the type of engine installed affects not only the take-off weight but also the flight range. With the Ukrainian AI-450T2 engine, the drone can cover up to 1,300 km, while the Rotax 914 engine extends its range to an impressive 3,300 km.

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