In the latest example of battlefield innovation, Ukraine appears to have modified Aeroprakt A-22 lightweight turboprops for use as uncrewed air vehicles (UAVs).

Imagery circulating on social media purportedly shows A-22 UAVs striking a site deep within Russian territory, with unverified reports claiming a factory allegedly producing Iranian-designed Shahed kamikaze drones was targeted.

The industrial facility is located in the Russian city of Yelabuga, some 450 miles (725km) east of Moscow in the Tartarstan region. An oil refinery is also situated in the nearby city of Nizhnekamsk.

Those sites are more than 800 miles from Ukrainian territory – seemingly marking one of Kyiv’s deepest strikes since the war began in 2022.


Source: ShareAlike 2.0 Generic/Wikimedia Commons

The Ukrainian armed forces reportedly modified two Aeroprakt A-22 ultralight hobby aircraft into uncrewed suicide vehicles

Aeroprakt’s US dealer lists the A-22 as having a range of 600 miles – presumably with the weight of passengers.

Video from the 2 April attack shows what appears to be a grey A-22 smashing into a two-floor white building, followed by a sizeable explosion. The BBC reports the building was used as a dormitory.

Local Russian officials say the attacks did not seriously damage infrastructure in either location and that production operations were unaffected.

However, Ukraine’s military intelligence say the strike in Yelabuga “caused significant destruction of production facilities”.

Following the incident, pro-Ukrainian fundraising and media organisation Saint Javelin posted an image to social media showing two grey aircraft resembling A-22s. The windscreens of both aircraft are covered, giving the appearance of an uncrewed flight vehicle.

Shahed drone photo by Conflict Armament Research

Source: Conflict Armament Research

Russia is believed to have fired thousands of Iranian-designed Shahed “kamikaze drones” into Ukraine, often deploying the long-range weapons against civilian targets and population centres

The veracity of the image remains unverified.

If confirmed, modification of A-22s into long-range strike weapons would mark the war’s first known use of a conventional aircraft converted into a so-called kamikaze or suicide drone.

Officially known as one-way UAVs, designs for the class vary widely from commercial quadcopters modified with anti-tank munitions to manufactured air vehicles like the Iranian Shahed-136 – essentially a low-speed, lightweight cruise missile.

Moscow operates that type under the designation Geran-2, which Russian forces have deployed in waves against Ukrainian civilian population centres.

Such one-way UAVs have become a fixture of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, owing to their low production costs and precision targeting capability.

There has been no official confirmation that the A-22 was in fact the aircraft seen in the Yelabuga strike video.

However, in comments to Reuters on 4 April, Aeroprakt’s founder and chief designer Yuriy Yakovlyev said the silhouette of the aircraft resembles an A-22. He noted his company is not involved in any UAV production and does not have any knowledge of producing UAV navigation or control systems.

Some 1,600 A-22s have been produced by Aeroprakt, according to Yakovlyev, including 100 sold inside Russia before the war began. He confirmed to Reuters that it would be possible to modify the single-engined ultralights for uncrewed flight.

A-22s are ultralight high-wing, single-propeller sport aircraft with room for two occupants seated side by side.

Although Aeroprakt is a Ukrainian manufacturer, the company’s website lists its current address as Zakliczyn, Poland. That website identifies Aeroprakt dealers in Europe, the USA, South America, Africa, the Middle East, Oceania and East Asia.

Notable in the context of military operations, Aeroprakt describes A-22s as short take-off and landing aircraft with the flexibility to operate from a wide range of airfields. “Take-off roll is equally short, so hundreds of small airstrips are available for you,” Aeroprakt’s website says.

The A-22’s cabin is 128cm (4.2ft) wide, with space for “three big bags” in a luggage container behind the cockpit seats. This suggests ample room for incorporating an explosive payload, in addition to any control modifications needed for the UAV conversion.

Under the so-called “Army of Drones” initiative launched in 2023, Kyiv hopes to dramatically expand its domestic UAV production in an effort to offset Russian imports from China and Iran.

Although the USA and Europe have provided Ukraine with billions of dollars worth of weapons, including precision strike munitions, Western leaders have prohibited Kyiv from using those systems to strike targets inside Russia. Ukraine has resorted to using domestically produced long-range UAVs as a work around.