Operation Cigarette Butt: Ukraine’s Covert Strike on Saki Air Base

The following analysis is an updated and revised version of our preliminary-battle damage assessment (P-BDA) released after very-high-resolution (VHR) satellite imagery of Saki Air Base surfaced online, on August 10….

The following analysis is an updated and revised version of our preliminary-battle damage assessment (P-BDA) released after very-high-resolution (VHR) satellite imagery of Saki Air Base surfaced online, on August 10. We assess that the explosions at Saki AB resulted from a Ukrainian attack and not a “work accident,” as described by Russian authorities. 

P-BDA “hot take”

BDA version 2 (V2)

BDA V2 Saki AB attack (source: T-Intelligence using Planet imagery, all rights reserved)


Ukraine’s unclaimed attack on Saki AB left the Russian Navy’s 43rd Independent Naval Attack Aviation Regiment without at total of at least 11 aircraft, an unknown number of personnel, and an unquantifiable amount of auxiliary equipment and logistics. Our Battle Damage Assessment covers the parking area and main apron. 


  • At least ten aircraft were destroyed, disabled or severely damaged: six Su-24M/MRs (NATO/AFIC: Fencer) and four 30SMs (Flanker-H). 
  • Two buildings collapsed; 
  • an unquantifiable amount of auxiliary material and other logistics was destroyed. The August 9 image shows hundreds of crates holding unknown contents (probable munition, fuel, spare parts, etc.) are stockpiled near the aircraft in the parking area. The largest stockpiles are in front of the two service buildings and on the cement pads usually used for parking aircraft. These areas appeared cratered in the post-blast image, likely the scene of the major explosions filmed by holidaymakers. 


  • Burn marks are visible on the westernmost parking slot, but no aircraft wreckage is visible on the August 10 imagery. However, at least one Su-24 was destroyed on the apron as per a social media video. The Russians could have removed the damaged aircraft or whatever was left of them before the satellite passed overhead. 

  • One administrative building was severely damaged. 


Compared to the P-BDA, V2 contains the before-explosion imagery (August 9), improves the visual communication of the initial analysis, adds more context to the cratered areas, re-labels a largely nondescript aircraft wreckage as a Su-30SM (previously mislabeled Su-24), and re-assesses the main apron damage (no aircraft wreckage visible on August 10). BDA V2 also highlights a damaged administrative building that was not marked in the P-BDA. Other noteworthy BDAs can be found herehere, and here, among others. 


At the time of the writing of this report, there is still no definitive proof as to what weapon system carried out the attack. There is no hard evidence to break the tie between a missile strike and a SOF operation (both raid and stand-in strike). 


In our “hot take” we assessed that short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) are most likely behind the strike, with the indigenous Hrim as the probable culprit. Other theoretical, albeit less likely, options are an extended range Tockha-U (Scarab), R-360 Neptune in a land-attack role, or ATACMS – the US has denied supplying the missile for Ukraine’s HIMARS. 

Hrim has the range and payload to reach and prosecute Saki AB. Akin to the 9K270 Iskander (Stone), Hrim possesses certain kinematic characteristics that could allow it to evade Russia’s local multi-layered air defenses. It is also public knowledge that the Ukrainian defense industry has produced a small number of prototypes. As seen in the case of the Neptune program, war conditions can force a developing missile into limited service. 

Hrim-2 SRBM in desert camouflage

Tactical Report has a comprehensive report from January 2022 on the Hrim, including an exclusive update on the program’s status from the Saudi side, the financier and primary beneficiary of the SRBM project. 

The SRBM theory continues to be backed by some circumstantial evidence, such as the craters, extent of damage, and even a possible missile magnetic signature detection. However, upon re-evaluation in the following days, we found that alternative explanations (see here and here) are also very likely and cannot be discarded. 

Probably the most credible alternative is a short-range strike by SOFs with bomb-laden quadcopter drones or portable loitering munitions. These strike platforms do not have the payload to cause mass destruction, but they can ignite the presumed ammo dumps in the parking area. 


Most available evidence, including the presence of craters and eyewitness videos from the event, can support both hypotheses in certain variations. Some key evidence is also missing, such as recovered attack system debris which could suggest a stand-off missile strike or bomb-laden drone launched by SOFs. There are also too many unknowns about crucial data points – e.g., contents of crates that exploded. Some likely held ammunition and fuel, as suggested by the massive detonations in the videos, but others may have not. 


Both US and Ukrainian officials are keeping a tight lip over what happened. However, separate unofficial Ukrainian reports have mentioned the use of a “device of Ukrainian manufacturing” (New York Times) and the work of SOFs and/or partisans (Washington Post). These reports can also be interpreted as both complementing and contradicting each other, adding to the information fog surrounding the event. Even Presidential Military Advisor Oleksiy Arestovych has put forward both theories to explain the attack. 

Ukraine does want to reveal further information about the attack on Saki Air Base due to political and operations security reasons. Regardless of how the operation unfolded, the strike underlines a series of weaknesses in the Russian-occupied “fortress Crimea” including in air defense and/or perimeter security. 


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Iran Retaliates with Ballistic Missile Strike at Coalition Bases in Iraq

Iran launched a missile attack on Coalition facilities in Iraq as retaliation for the United States UAV-strike that killed IRGC-QF Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani.  SITUATION REPORT At approx. 1.30 (Baghdad…

Iran launched a missile attack on Coalition facilities in Iraq as retaliation for the United States UAV-strike that killed IRGC-QF Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani


  • At approx. 1.30 (Baghdad time), the IRGC-Aerospace Force (IRGC-AF) launched 15 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) from Khermanshah (Iran) against Ain Al-Assad AB and Erbil AB in Iraq. 
  • Ten SRBMs targeted Ain Al-Assad AB and five Erbil AB (which also hosts Italian, British and German forces). However, four SRBMs malfunctioned on their way to Erbil and failed. At least one SRBM was reportedly intercepted by a US C-RAM system at Ain Al-Assad. FYI: There are no THAAD nor Patriot air defense systems deployed in Iraq. 
  • Judging by the engagement range and operational history, the IRGC-AF likely fired Qi’am-1 or Fateh-class SRBMs (e.g. Fateh-313). 
  • No known casualties resulted from the strike, but the US Department of Defense and the Iraqi Security Forces are still in the process of conducting a battle damage assessment. 

Preliminary determination of the IRGC-AF’s SRBMs’ flight path from Iran to their targets in Iraq via T-Intelligence

  • Unconfirmed reports indicate that inbound missile warnings were issued, allowing Iraqi and Coalition forces to take shelter in bunkers. This means that the SRBM launches were detected by US early warning assets such as aerial platforms, satellites or ground-based radars. All US bases in the region and joint Coalition-Iraqi facilities in Iraq have been on high alert since early January. 
  • Iran has officially claimed the attack. The Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, called the attack “proportional”. Follow-up strikes are not expected.
  • The direct Iranian SRBM attack on Coalition forces is unprecedented, although very ineffective. If the DOD’s BDA proves that there are no human or major infrastructure losses, the chance of a US response are low. Both the US and Iran are interested in de-escalating the confrontation without losing face.


This section will be updated when new information becomes available. 


We assess with a high degree of confidence that the IRGC’s SRBM salvo at targets in Iraq was ineffective due to technological malfunction and careful pre-planning to mitigate US/Coalition losses. By mounting a major but non-lethal attack, the IRGC hoped “to kill two birds with one stone:” 

  • High internal expectations. The IRGC satisfied Iran’s internal thirst to avenge the death of Iran’s “national treasure” Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani and claim success. The IRGC claims it killed “80 Americans and destroyer several aircraft.” 
  • Controlled escalation. The IRGC hopes to dissuade U.S. President Trump from ordering counter-attacks that could lead to an open armed conflict.

The IRGC’s plan should work, in theory. We know that for the past few days, the United States Department of State was engaged in back-channel negotiations with Iran via Qatar, the Swiss Embassy in Tehran and Oman. Washington’s message was clear: “we expect a retaliation from you but it must be proportionate. American losses are off-limits and will trigger additional air strikes.” Washington enforced its threat with the swift deployment of 6,000 forces (consisting of paratroopers, marines and special forces) to the Middle East for contingency operations.

It seems that Iran obeyed the “rules of the game.” Iraq’s “care-taker” Prime Minister claims that Tehran notified him before the strike and then he notified the U.S, therefore helping the Coalition prepare for the “missile rain”. Despite Tehran’s efforts to craft a balanced aggression, the IRGC’s attack was unprecedented as it directly targeted a site housing US forces and used BMs. Tehran threaded carefully but still walked a thin line. 

While impossible to predict President Trump’s next step, the chances of a U.S. military counter-strike have significantly decreased due to the lack of human losses. If Washington greenlights another strike, it will very likely target BM launchers, SAM systems and Command & Control (C2) nodes in western Iran. The objective of a new military attack would be to reduce the IRGC’s capability to plan, mount and execute BM attacks and “knock-off the door” (destruction/ suppression of enemy air defense systems) for follow-up air strikes, if required. The hypothetical scenario will likely lead to an low-intensity open conflict, restricted to air-naval engagements, between the two parties. However, there is no indication at this time suggesting that the U.S. President will follow an escalatory course of action

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