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Drone Warfare in the Russia-Ukraine War
Weaponised drones have been used by both sides in the Russia-Ukraine War to conduct series of anti-personnel, anti-armour, sabotage and reconnaissance missions. Access to drones have allowed both militaries to project a disproportionate amount of power, and destroy both military and civilian targets with little resistance. Anti-drone weaponry is as of yet not capable, nor widespread enough to adequately counter this rising threat, heralding a rise in drone warfare for the foreseeable future. This article will examine some of the drones and responses to the drones that have been verified to have taken place during this conflict.
The Bayraktar TB2 immediately achieved international recognition during the beginning of the conflict due to a flood of footage from the Ukrainian Armed Forces employing them to destroy Russian Armour. The Turkish-built drone is costly, with a unit price of approximately $5 million. However, the Bayraktar TB2 also offers precision strikes from an altitude of 25,000ft with a payload of 150kg. This offers the Bayraktar as a formidable piece of equipment, with the ability to destroy heavy equipment with ease. For example, there are reports that these drones have been employed to sink the Moskva – the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Due to these capabilities, the drones have become highly coveted – and their use in Ukraine represents the strength of the Turkish-Ukrainian alliance. Baykar, the Turkish defence company responsible for producing the Bayraktar TB2, has already begun the construction of a factory in Ukraine to produce the drones. This factory will also include a training centre for Ukrainian pilots. This drone has notably also been used during the recent Armenia-Azerbaijani conflict, striking targets in Nagorno-Karabakh.
HESA Shahed 136:
The Iranian-made HESA Shahed 136 kamikaze drones, also known as Geran-2 drones (with minor Russian modifications) are cheap loitering-munitions that have been exported to Russia by Iran for use against Ukrainian targets. The average Shahed drone is worth around $20,000, which makes them an economical choice for overwhelming Ukrainian air defences and inflicting economic losses as the average IRIS-T surface-to-air missile is worth around $430,000. Additionally, downed Shahed drones can still inflict significant damage on collateral targets. These drones are hard to intercept, with their low speed, low altitude and small size cloaking them from detection by MiG-29 radars. This makes them difficult to intercept by Ukrainian aircraft, relying on ground air defences. Swarms of these drones have also been used to test for weaknesses in anti-air defences, in preparation for missile strikes. As a result of these strikes, Ukraine have significantly reduced diplomatic ties with Iran – who still claim that they have not supplied any drones to Russia.
Wild-Hornets FPV Drones:
The Wild Hornet is Ukraine’s answer to cheap but effective combat drones. Each unit costs only around $400 and can carry a 2kg payload, such as an anti-tank rocket round. These drones can also travel at around 150km/h and do not use a GPS, making them hard to detect. This is a significant improvement in all aspects from the previously used DJI’s Mavic 3 drone, which was the previously most popular drone used by Ukrainian forces. Since these drones are built with locally available components, they are not levy to supply shortages that may affect retail manufacturers. Due to their size and cheap cost, they can be used en masse for suicide attacks – but can also be reused, or for reconnaissance missions. Primarily, these drones are used for anti-vehicle and anti-personnel attacks, and have been also been heavily relied upon in battles such as Avdiivka – in which Ukrainian soldiers are effectively under siege. Ukraine benefits massively from this cost-benefit analysis, as the cheap drones can disable and destroy Russian tanks worth millions at a very low relative cost.
In response to the incoming drone supremacy, tanks have been equipped with makeshift defences, such as wire cages installed above the turret. These defences are largely insignificant, and only rarely result in the survival of the tank. Instead they represent that modern armour is truly undeveloped to resist drone-fired munitions. Even the Israeli Merkava IV tanks have been spotted with these cages, although not all units have been modified with them. These crude defences exist only to reduce damage from drone dropped munitions, rather than missiles or anything more substantial. FPV suicide drones have been able to circumvent such defences before detonating, limiting their practical defensive capabilities further. Drone protection will likely become a top priority for arms manufacturers, as limited options currently exist. Nevertheless, this is unlikely to come into effect during the current conflict.
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