Many details remain unknown about the incident in which an unmanned aircraft crossed Romania and Hungary before entering Croatia and crashing into a field in Zagreb near a student dormitory. According to the Hungarian authorities, the drone was “tracked and monitored” from the moment it entered the country. Croatia, meanwhile, strongly criticized NATO for its slow reaction and called on the Hungarian authorities to investigate the incident, especially since the UAV “could have fallen on the nuclear power plant in Hungary.” Later remnants of an aerial bomb have been found in the crashed drone.
As we have previously reported, an unidentified Tu-141 “Strizh” reconnaissance drone crashed near Zagreb last Thursday night. The unmanned aerial vehicle, which allegedly came from Ukraine, crossed over several NATO member countries including Hungary before coming down in the Croatian capital.
According to the Croatian government, the “pilotless military aircraft” entered Croatian airspace from Hungary at a speed of 700km/h and an altitude of 1,300 meters.
The heavy drone, weighing more than six tons, flew for at least 560 kilometers, allegedly undetected by air defenses in Romania, Hungary, and Croatia, all members of the western military alliance.
The drone flew over Hungary for over 40 minutes, then it spent less than seven minutes in Croatian air space, before crashing. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident, although a large crater was created and several parked vehicles were damaged.
Meanwhile, it is still unclear whether it came from the Russian or Ukrainian side. Both countries have denied launching the drone, but military experts say Ukraine is the only known current operator of the Tu-141.
Not long after the incident, Hungarian authorities reported two more airspace violations, one at Friday noon and the other on Friday afternoon. However, the Gripen fighter planes sent to investigate suspicious radar contacts found no trace of any flying objects. The incidents are still under investigation.
The Hungarian Ministry of Defense (HM) also issued a statement on the incident, noting that contrary to earlier press reports, “the high-speed vehicle” had been in fact detected by Hungarian military forces when it was still in Ukraine. It entered the airspace of Hungary at Csenger, northeastern Hungary passing through the airspace of Romania. The HM said the aircraft was “tracked and monitored” from the moment it entered the country.
As for the subsequent suspicious radar contacts, the HM said: “Given the past events, the Gripen planes on alert checked the airspace affected, but no aircraft were found there.”
Despite the ministry’s statement, the incident raises a number of security risks in all NATO member countries involved. Especially since then, remnants of an aerial bomb have been found in the crashed drone, Defense Minister Mario Banožić said on Sunday.
“Traces of an explosive device have been found, indicating that this was not a reconnaissance drone. We have found parts of an aerial bomb,” Banožić told reporters at the crash site.
He said that it was a Soviet-made unmanned aerial vehicle,”We will be able to say what its purpose was only after an analysis. This type of bomb was used by aircraft,” he added.
In response to a journalist’s question, he confirmed that the bomb exploded, but it is not yet known exactly when: before or after it made impact. Later, Zeljko Zivanovic, advisor to Defense Minister Banozic, told Croatian public media that the bomb the UAV carried weighed around 120 kilograms.
Unsurprisingly, the Croatian authorities – even before finding out that the drone was carrying an aerial bomb – strongly criticized NATO for its slow reaction.
NATO said the alliance’s integrated air and missile defense had tracked the object’s flight path. But the Croatian Prime Minister said the country’s authorities were not informed and that NATO reacted only after questions were posed by journalists, the Associated Press reported.
“We cannot tolerate this situation, nor should it have ever happened,” Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said while visiting the crash site.
“This was a pure and clear threat and both NATO and the EU should have reacted,” he said. “We will work to raise not only our readiness, but of others as well. “
Plenkovic called on the Hungarian authorities to launch an investigation into why its defenses apparently did not notice the unmanned drone, as both Croatia and Romania had little time to react to the fast-moving object.
“Fortunately, something much worse did not happen,” Plenkovic said, adding that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “found out about this after me.”
“This could have fallen on the nuclear power plant in Hungary. Obviously, there was no good reaction, and other countries did not react well. Now we have a test from which we have to learn and react much better,” he said.
Plenkovic said that only an air crash investigation can determine who launched the drone.
Featured photo illustration via Wikipedia