Ukraine Lights up Dzankhoi Air-Base

Ukraine may have destroyed Russia’s S400 air-defense unit in Crimea

Shankar Narayan
6 min readApr 17, 2024
RLM-M Radar. A component in the Nebo-M-Radar Complex

Ukraine launched a massive attack on the Dzankhoi airbase, a former international airport turned Russian airbase in Crimea. The airbase housed a significant number of Russian assets in a small area and possibly contained two high-value Russian air-defense systems responsible for protecting the entrance to Crimea.

In 1999, Dzhankoi was certified as an international airport, allowing various aircraft types to land and depart under diverse weather conditions. After the annexation of Crimea, the Russians took control of this airport and turned it into an airbase for their 39th Helicopter Regiment of the Russian 27th Composite Aviation Division.

Over time, this base evolved into a logistical center for the Russian armed forces, supplying Russian troops fighting in southern Ukraine.

Air base + logistical node + warehouses = Maximum protection as possible.

Open-source analysts say this is one of the locations where Russia has kept its famous S400 Triumph air-defense systems and may also have S300 systems. I believe them. The Russians are not going to keep all their precious assets in one place and leave them without air-defense coverage.

Last night, Ukraine lit up the airbase. While there is no official confirmation yet on the type of weapons used to strike one of Crimea’s highly protected air bases, reports suggest that explosions persisted for hours. It’s likely that Ukraine targeted an ammunition dump, triggering a series of prolonged explosions.

NASA Fire Maps

The screenshot you see above is from the NASA Fire Map, displaying six distinct points of fire at the Dzhankoi air base. The likelihood is high that the Russians lost a considerable number of high-value assets during last night’s attack. Additionally, it suggests that Ukraine either launched numerous Storm Shadow/Scalp missiles or dropped a cluster munition (ATACMS), resulting in a broad area being set on fire.

I believe it is the latter. Firing more than 10 British-made long-range Storm Shadow missiles is not a simple task, and it is far too risky for Ukraine’s Soviet-era jets. While it is possible, the risk is considerable. Russian military bloggers are screaming at the top of their voice that it is the ATACMS that caused the damage.

“About 12 ATACMS operational-missiles were used for the strike, most likely launched from the Kherson region. The raid was a carried out in two waves. The first strike involved seven missiles, apparently cluster warheads, and the second used at least five. Some damaged equipment at the airfield and some damaged one of the buildings.

For the attack, both MGM-140A with a range of upto 165 kms and MGM-140B with a combat radius of 300 kms could be used”.

I do believe that Ukraine has ATACMS in their possession. Russian military bloggers claim it is the ATACMS, while Ukrainian military bloggers either remain silent or have taken the opposite stance, denying it was ATACMS. The scale and scope of the attack lead me to believe it was indeed the ATACMS. As for when Ukraine acquired these weapons and how many they possess, I have no information. It is possible that the Biden administration sent a few during their last aid package.

We will receive confirmation regarding the type of weapon used by Ukraine after the Institute of Study of War releases its assessment tomorrow.

The last time the Biden administration provided Ukraine with ATACMS missiles was in October last year, when they generously provided them with 20 missiles. How many they would have provided this time remains uncertain.

But the attack on the Dzankhoi airbase was the second high-value attack Ukraine launched in the last 48 hours. On April 16th, Ukraine took down Russia’s ‘Nebo-U’ radar system in the Byransk region, which is further to the north of Kyiv. “It is reported that the radar complex, worth $100 million, was hit by 7 airplane-type kamikaze drones”.

It is a high value radar system that is capable of scanning the skies for upto 700 kms.

“Thanks to the destruction of this radar, the enemy has fewer opportunities to detect air targets along Ukraine’s northern border. Russians’ radar blindness will help our troops to conduct reconnaissance, launch drones and use army aviation in this area more efficiently,” a Ukrainian offical told Kyiv independent.

The Nebo-U is a mobile multiband radar system designed for detecting and tracking a variety of aerial targets, including aircraft, drones, and ballistic missiles. It is capable of operating in different frequency bands, providing Russia with advanced situational awareness and air defense capabilities.

Ukraine is targeting Russia’s high-value hard to replace assets, particularly focusing on Russia’s surveillance ability and air-defense coverage. Before the start of the war, Russians had five S400 systems in Crimea. If Ukraine had completely destroyed the S400 in yesterday’s attack, that would bring Russia’s total loss in Crimea to three units.

The losses incurred in the last two days will significantly impact the Russian forces. The loss of the Nebo-U radar complex will make it difficult for Russian forces to monitor Ukraine’s drones entering Russian territory and prepare for their arrival. Similarly, the loss of air-defense systems near the Dzhankoi airfield will diminish the functionality of other air-defense systems installed in Crimea. Each system lost will weaken the network and reduce the Russian ability to respond effectively.

Russia’s air-defense coverage over Crimea is already weak.

How did multiple missiles, drones, or ATACMS, or whatever Ukraine managed to fire into the forwardmost airfield in Crimea, get through? This should never have happened, but it did. This indicates that the Russians are unable to protect their military assets in Crimea.

Ukraine has done this so many times. After their successful attacks on the Russian Naval headquarters and repeated attacks on the Sevastopol shipyard, one would have expected the Russians to bolster their defenses in the sector. There were reports that mentioned Russia having around 96 S400 systems. I don’t know if they were referring to the entire battery or just the launchers.

Whatever the number might be, one thing is very clear: Russia’s air defense over Crimea had a significant gap on September 22, 2023, the day when Ukraine fired two Storm Shadow missiles at the Russian Naval headquarters. Almost six months later, the Russians are yet to fix that gaping hole.

Russians do not have enough S400s on hand to enhance their current air-defense coverage. Further losses from here on out will have an increasingly corrosive effect.

It is evident that Ukraine is actively targeting Russian military infrastructure, focusing on weakening Russia’s surveillance and air-defense capabilities in Crimea. By targeting ‘replcement unavailable’ assets such as the S400 systems and the Nebo-U radar complex, Ukraine aims to disrupt Russian military operations and diminish their ability to defend against future incursions or airstrikes.

This is what military analysts refer to as an interdiction campaign, which is part of a broader strategy to shape the battlefield and prepare for the arrival of new fighter jets. By degrading Russian capabilities and infrastructure, Ukraine aims to gain a tactical advantage and enhance its position in future military engagements.

Update, April 18th:

Ukraine’s ministry of defense released the total losses suffered by Russia as a result of the attack. As I anticipated this is a massive, massive hit.

● 4x S-400 air defense missile launchers ● 3x radar detection systems ● Air defense command-and-control center ● “Fundament-M” airspace surveillance equipment.

Fundament-M is an extremely “rare, high level, IAMDS command & control asset”. In terms of utility, I will keep this hit very close to Ukraine sinking Russian flagship cruiser Moskva, may be even better.

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Shankar Narayan

He didn't care what he had or what he had left, he cared only about what he must do.