Anti-drone unit
The radio electronic warfare (EW) unit of Russia's Western Military District (ZVO) Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation

The Russian ministry of defence has said that a swarm of coordinated drones attacked their Khmeimim Air Base in Syria during the night between 5 and 6 January. This follows an attack on the base on New Year's Eve that left two dead and an aircraft damaged.

In a press release from the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD), which has been quoted by The War Zone (TWZ), the Russians said that the drone attack was a coordinated effort "with massive application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)".

According to the sequence of events outlined by the release, Russian air defence forces "detected 13 unidentified small-sized air targets at a significant distance approaching the Russian military bases". Out of the 13, 10 were said to be targeting the base while three were approaching Tartus, where Russia has a naval base.

Six of these drones were immediately intercepted by the drone-hunting Electronic Warfare (EW) unit at the base and captured – three of them landed outside the base while the other three exploded.

Seven other enemy drones were destroyed by the Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missile complexes which are a part of Russian air defence systems, the MOD said. According to reports, there was no damage or loss of life in the Russian camp.

"Currently, the Russian military experts are analysing the construction, technical fillings and improvised explosives of the captured UAVs," the release read. The data onboard has been recovered and technicians have found the base from which the drone swarm was launched. However, the MOD has not named the actual base yet.

It only said that the drones came from at least 50km away, and that these same UAVs could possibly cover distances of over 100km.

"Engineering decisions applied by terrorists while attacks on the Russian objects in Syria could be received from one of the countries with high technological capabilities of satellite navigation and remote dropping control of professionally assembled improvised explosive devices in assigned coordinates. All the drones belonging to the terrorists are fitted with pressure transducers and altitude control servo-actuators," read the MOD release, adding, "The terrorists' aircraft-type drones carried explosive devices with foreign detonating fuses."

The Russians will launch an inquiry to investigate the supply channels through which these terrorists procured the materials, and will also try to find more information about the technology used to assemble these complex aircraft as well as the origin of the explosives used. The release closed with a grim statement, saying, "Usage of strike aircraft-type drones by terrorists is the evidence that militants have received technologies to carry out terrorist attacks using such UAVs in any country."

It has long been speculated about what would happen if not-so-friendly entities get their hands on attack drones. This first-time attack, although reportedly thwarted, serves as a stark reminder of such a reality.