Tu-141 “Strizh” Missile-Like Drone From The War In Ukraine Looks To Have Crashed In Croatia (Updated)

The mysterious craft that slammed into Croatia’s capital appears to be a Soviet-era jet-powered drone that only Ukraine operates.

byTyler Rogoway| UPDATED Mar 11, 2022 11:28 AM
Tu-141 “Strizh” Missile-Like Drone From The War In Ukraine Looks To Have Crashed In Croatia (Updated)
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In what can only be deemed a totally bizarre event, Croatia's capital of Zagreb was awakened to a loud blast just hours ago only to find a large crater filled with what appeared to be aircraft parts. Some said it was a plane that crashed and that parachutes were seen nearby, others said it was a missile. After close examination of the visual evidence, The War Zone strongly believes this was actually a Tu-141 "Strizh" reconnaissance drone that must have severely malfunctioned and crossed over the entirety of Hungary or parts of neighboring countries and into Croatia from Ukraine. Flying direct from Ukraine's border to Zagreb is nearly a 350-mile journey. It has been reported that Ukraine has been putting the high-speed, Soviet-era drones to work in recent days following Russia's invasion of the country. Ukraine is the only known current operator of the Tu-141.

We were first alerted to the mysterious crash by @Darkstar_OSINT who quickly briefed us on the strange situation and the claims surrounding it. Upon inspecting the wreckage and considering the odd and somewhat conflicting reports, as well as the biggest news story of the year occurring in the region, we concluded only one aircraft really fit the bill—the Tu-141. 

It just so happens one of the wings was left largely intact, allowing us to verify our hunch. Still, the fact that this drone flew so far off course is both puzzling and alarming. But it would not be the first loss of the Tu-141 of the war. Another went down in Ukraine just days ago.

The Tu-141 is a fascinating piece of Soviet-era hardware that Ukraine has upgraded and made useful following the invasion of Crimea in 2014. More of a cruise missile than a traditional drone, the aircraft is rocket-launched from its trailer and flies a predetermined course at transonic speed, collecting various forms of intelligence, before recovering via parachute. It can then be reset and used again. 

Ukraine MoD

The Tu-141's roots go back to its predecessor, the Tu-123, which first flew in 1960, but the Strizh is far from youthful, having first been introduced into service by the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. With a range of about 650 miles, the Tu-141 can take on some of the missions that a manned tactical reconnaissance jet can, but without the risk of losing the crew. Ukraine has also used the type as a target drone recently and it could also act as a decoy during combat, although this particular Tu-141 was heading in completely the wrong direction for such a mission.

It's also possible that Russia has pulled some of these out of storage to act as crude decoys in a ploy to stimulate Ukraine's air defenses, but we have no proof of this at this time. This crashed example would have been beyond its stated range from the Russian border, although it could have reached Zagreb if it was launched from Belarus. 

I don't think the folks in Croatia realize exactly what landed in their town just yet. It will be interesting to hear what Ukraine says about this. Also, it does raise some serious air defense readiness questions for the NATO countries that the Tu-141 flew over, if indeed that was the case. And as always, new information can emerge and details can change, but based on the information currently available, it seems very likely that the mysterious craft involved in this incident was indeed the Tu-141. 

We will update this post as more information comes available. 

UPDATE: 

A release from Croatia's presidential office quotes President Zoran Milanovic as stating the "pilotless military aircraft” entered Croatian airspace from neighboring Hungary flying at over 500 knots and around 4,000 feet in altitude. The drone crashed after it ran out of fuel and "it is clear" it came from Ukraine. Meanwhile, Hungary says it arrived in its airspace via Romania, but was not detected in real-time by anyone's air defenses. Nobody knows if it was launched by Ukraine or Russia at this time, but some accounts state it had red stars on it, which are Russian markings. The Russian Embassy in Croatia says that Russia stopped using the Tu-141 in the early 1990s.

President Milanovic underlined how serious this event was and how troubling it is that the drone was not detected during its relatively long flight, stating: “What I wonder is, how is it possible that an unsophisticated drone had flown unnoticed for nearly an hour in the air space of NATO member states, and that nobody noticed... This is not an issue for Hungary only, it is an issue for the joint NATO command in Spain that should have all the information in real-time, in the shortest possible period of time and react, yet nothing happened”.

This is surely a major issue, especially considering how on alert the NATO countries bordering Ukraine are right now and the extra air defense capabilities deployed within their borders at this time.

A criminal investigation has been launched by Croatian authorities into the incident.

MINISTER OF DEFENSE MARIO BANOŽIĆ AT THE #PRESS CONFERENCE: "I call on the citizens to have no reason to worry. Contacts have been made about this extraordinary event and information has been exchanged with the services

@NATO and neighboring countries with which we have intensive communication ".

The full release from the President of Croatia's office:

The President of the Republic and Commander in Chief Zoran Milanović addressed the public at a special press conference held because of the crash of the drone in a neighborhood of Zagreb. Earlier in the day President Milanović held a meeting with the Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces, the directors of the security and intelligence agencies, experts from the General Staff and intelligence services. In his public address, President Milanović stated that this is a “serious incident”, which according to available information, “was not directed against Croatia”. He called for calm from the citizens.

“Therefore, we know where the object flew from, we had no advance warning. The drone flew over Hungary for over 40 minutes, it was less than seven minutes in the Croatian air space, and crashed in the Jarun neighbourhood, fortunately with no casualties. This is a serious incident according to information we have. An investigation is underway, we wish to ascertain all the facts. I call upon the citizens to be calm because events like this are bound to happen in such conflicts. We estimate that this was not directed against Croatia. Nevertheless, certain procedural things must be examined, we must ascertain how it has come to this, and how come a drone the size of an airplane was not struck down on its path from evidently Ukraine to Zagreb”, President Milanović stated.

Asked how it is possible that Croatia did not undertake anything in terms of air defense and how is it possible that nobody undertook anything in other NATO member states over which the drone flew, President Milanović replied: “This is currently the object of a serious investigation in the states over which this drone flew for a long period of time. It was in Croatian air space briefly, therefore the question is, given the quality of the equipment we have could we have done anything?”

He was further questioned whether the Croatian air defense detected at all this drone, and President Milanović replied: “The radars detected it, but it was in our air space for a very briefly. This is not the time to point the finger at anyone. I am not pointing the finger at anyone, but I demand exact facts”. President Milanović confirmed that he called the Prime Minister this morning to discuss the matter.

“The facts will be ascertained. What I wonder is, how is it possible that an unsophisticated drone had flown unnoticed for nearly an hour in the air space of NATO member states, and that nobody noticed. An investigation is under way, this is not a job for the police only because they lack this kind of expertise. Military services and personnel are involved, and as things stand now, the drone flew in from Ukraine, at an altitude of 1,300 metres, at a speed of over 500 knots, which is slightly below 1,000 km/h, which is the speed of a commercial passenger aircraft, and crashed in Zagreb when it ran out of fuel. Control was lost over it”, President Milanović noted. Even though the drone came from the territory of Hungary, President Milanović said: “This is not an issue for Hungary only, it is an issue for the joint NATO command in Spain that should have all the information in real time, in the shortest possible period of time and react, yet nothing happened”.

Journalists inquired whether a National Security Council session will be convened because of this incident. “A National Security Council session will be held when the Prime Minister and I agree on it. We have all the information for the time being. I have been thoroughly briefed. A National Security Council session used for a photo op is senseless. When at a time like this I call the Prime Minister or he calls me, when we coordinate and talk to a group of people that are the only ones in the country to know something, when I talk to the mayor, that’s that. The National Security Council is not an operational body”, President Milanović explained.

Questioned further on the state of affairs in the Croatian air defense, President Milanović stated that “it is in the state as much as is invested in it”. He explained that we now depend on our Western allies until we get 12 French aircraft. He warned that they will be useless until we invest further resources in them. The President reminded that the rate of investments “is unsatisfactory”, something he has been saying for months and at the last Defense Council session. He has yet to receive the minutes of this session “because I demanded that there be a formulation about the state of affairs being unsatisfactory”. “Yes – unsatisfactory. We have not yet paid the price, but could have. Let us learn the lesson from this”, the President warned.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

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