Russia's helicopters are screwing up its attempt to fool Ukraine with decoys by landing on its fake painted fighter jets: intel

  • Russia has a history of painting decoy aircraft at its bases in an attempt to trick Ukraine.

  • Britain's defense ministry identified this deception strategy at one base in Crimea.

  • But Russia parked a helicopter on top of the decoy at the base, undermining the entire tactic.

Russia has been painting fake fighter jets on the ground at many of its airbases, a relatively simple tactic apparently meant to trick Ukraine into targeting the decoys instead of the real deal.

But Moscow also has a strange habit of landing its helicopters right on top of these decoy silhouettes, according to a new Western intelligence update, which says this strategy completely undermines any attempt to fool Ukraine.

The painting of fake warplanes is seen as a response to Ukraine's increasing ability to conduct long-range missile and drone attacks on Russian bases, analysts say. It is a crude but low-cost way for Moscow to try and provide inbound weaponry with false targets — thus leading to confusion.

"It is likely that as a result of continued successful Ukrainian strikes on military locations, Russia has been forced to implement a number of decoy and deception techniques in an attempt to obfuscate Ukrainian targeting efforts," Britain's defense ministry assessed in a Tuesday intelligence update.

The UK observed this practice taking place at Kirovskoe Airfield, in the eastern part of the occupied Crimean peninsula, where Russia painted decoy fighter jets on the concrete. But it noted that this tactic has been seen at more than a dozen other bases belonging to Moscow.

Indeed, decoy aircraft have been spotted well beyond Crimea and at bases inside of Russia's actual sovereign territory. They appear in satellite imagery because they are often painted in a ghostly shade of white, though some feature grey or blue markings as well, and don't cast any shadows, unlike real aircraft parked nearby.

The trend highlights "the extent of Russian concern of future Ukrainian strikes and their ability to repel them," Britain's defense ministry said. However, it added, "Russian helicopters still regularly land on the painted decoy fighter silhouettes, completely undermining the deception attempt."

A late-February satellite image of the Kirovskoe base, published on Tuesday by Britain's defense ministry, shows exactly this: a Russian helicopter sitting directly on the silhouette of a Su-30 fighter jet.

A Russian helicopter on top of a decoy fighter jet at a Russian base in Crimea.
A Russian helicopter on top of a decoy fighter jet at a Russian base in Crimea.Britain's defense ministry

The helicopter can clearly be seen casting a shadow, while the fighter jet does not have one. It's not immediately clear why Russia would want to expose its decoys in such a way.

"This also reveals the true order of battle or aircraft strength at these airbases, which Russia is likely trying to mask from Ukraine's intelligence picture," Britain's defense ministry said.

Beyond fake warplanes, the full-scale war in Ukraine has featured other creative examples of decoys and deception tactics on both sides. These range from inflatable tanks and wooden rocket launchers to radar reflectors made out of oil barrels.

Some are kind of lackluster, but some of the decoys are pretty convincing, to the point that they have drawn enemy fire.

Militaries have used tactics like misleading weapons and fake airfields in major armed conflicts like World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In a 2020 paper, the RAND Corporation think tank pointed out that the purpose in such cases was to redirect enemy attacks away from operational aircraft.

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