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    Which Ukrainian drone flies over 1200 kilometers?

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    Attacks on targets in the Russian republic of Tatarstan show that Ukraine has combat drones that can fly more than 1,200 kilometers. Are these specially developed drones or “simply” just converted sports aircraft?

    Ukraine has apparently successfully attacked a drone factory and an oil refinery in the Russian republic of Tatarstan with unmanned aircraft, more than 1,200 kilometers behind the front line. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) calls this a significant advance in Ukraine's ability to carry out long-range attacks deep into enemy territory. Kiev may be using drones for this purpose, which the state-owned arms company Ukroboronprom has allegedly been producing in mass quantities since last November. But they could also be converted sports aircraft.

    That's all Ukroboronprom has shown so far of the mysterious new combat drone. That's all Ukroboronprom has shown so far of the mysterious new combat drone.

    That's all Ukroboronprom has shown so far of the mysterious new combat drone.

    (Photo: Ukroboronprom)

    As early as October 2022, Ukroboronprom wrote on Facebook that it was developing a drone with a range of around 1,000 kilometers and a load capacity of around 75 kilograms. According to Reuters, the company conducted a successful trial back in 2020. Last November it announced that it had started mass production.

    In an interview, Ukroboronprom's general director Herman Smetanin said the drones had already hit Russian targets and the furthest distance measured was 1,000 kilometers. The Minister for Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, confirmed the existence of such drones in an interview with “Die Welt” on Monday.

    Apart from a photo of a component that could represent a hood, the manufacturer has not yet shown any images of the new long-range drone. Apparently it hardly resembles the Shahed drones that Russia uses to terrorize the Ukrainian population almost every day. They are working on more complex and expensive projects with higher performance, longer duration and range, said Smetanin.

    Modified sports aircraft?

    On a video it looks more like the Shahed factory in Yelabuga in Tatarstan was hit by some kind of converted sports aircraft. This would fit with reports that it is a modified A-22 from the Ukrainian manufacturer Aeroprakt. With a pilot, it has a range of 1,100 kilometers and can be in the air for up to ten hours. Its cruising speed is 150 kilometers per hour and its maximum speed is 190 kilometers per hour.

    A civil Aeroprakt A-22. A civil Aeroprakt A-22.

    A civil Aeroprakt A-22.

    “Army Recognition” believes that converting the A-22 into a kamikaze drone is possible, but lists numerous necessary modifications. These include, among other things, structural reinforcements to enable more fuel and a higher payload over long distances. That would explain the fact that in a video showing the recovery of an apparently unexploded drone, the wreckage bears little resemblance to an A-22. A more powerful motor may also be necessary, and a major challenge is controlling and communicating with the drone, according to the military experts.

    All in all, converting the A-22 would have required a coordinated effort by specialists in aerospace engineering, avionics and military strategy, as well as significant resources and extensive testing in the utmost secrecy, writes Army Recognition.

    The fact that the self-flying aircraft were able to reach their targets may be because they were not noticed as slow and low-flying objects or were considered harmless. But even then the navigation was a masterpiece. “Army Recognition” quotes a Russian reserve colonel who believes it is possible that advanced Western systems for precise target acquisition were used. These include the United States Space Force's NAVSTAR navigation satellite system and Elon Musk's Starlink system. But he also doubts the capabilities of the Russian air defense and military leadership.

    Autonomous navigation with AI support

    CNN cites a source who claims to be knowledgeable about Ukraine's drone program. Accordingly, the drones were navigated with the help of AI, which could have made them insensitive to jamming signals. This means that the unmanned aircraft have on-board computers on whose chips a model is installed that can coordinate stored satellite and terrain data with the environment in real time.

    “The flights are determined in advance with our allies and the aircraft follow the flight plan so that we can attack targets with meter precision,” said the source. The AI ​​system called “Machine Vision” does not require communication but works completely autonomously, Noah Sylvia from the British think tank Royal United Services told the US news channel.

    This level of autonomy has not previously existed in drones, Chris Lincoln-Jones told CNN. He is a former British military officer and an expert in drone warfare and artificial intelligence. The potential of the technology has not yet been exhausted; it is still at the very beginning.

    Or is it a further development?

    A Ukrjet UJ-22 Airborn may have served as a model for Ukraine's new long-range drone. A Ukrjet UJ-22 Airborn may have served as a model for Ukraine's new long-range drone.

    A Ukrjet UJ-22 Airborn may have served as a model for Ukraine's new long-range drone.

    (Photo: Ukrjet)

    The use of such sophisticated technology could also support another theory, according to which the drones used in Tatarstan are a further development of the UJ-22 Airborne from the Ukrainian manufacturer Ukrjet. It has a range of up to 800 kilometers, of which 100 kilometers can be controlled remotely. The UJ-22 has recently been used, among other things, in successful attacks on Russian oil refineries.

    The long-range drone is equipped with advanced sensors, cameras and communication systems and, according to the manufacturer, can maneuver even in adverse weather conditions, poor visibility and despite interference signals. It travels at speeds of up to 160 kilometers per hour, can fly at depths of 50 meters or at heights of up to 6,000 meters and can carry a payload of up to 20 kilograms.

    The UJ-22 is capable of transporting various weapons or being equipped with special cameras for reconnaissance purposes. It can stay in the air for up to seven hours. It usually returns to its original base, but it is also possible to convert it into a kamikaze drone.

    The recovered drone is significantly larger than the relatively small UJ-22, which has a wingspan of around five meters. However, the landing gear is similar, which could also be the case with a reinforced A-22. Ultimately, only the Ukrainian military leadership will be able to say which of its drones can attack targets more than 1,200 kilometers away in enemy territory.

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