Image source: Getty Images
Russia and Ukraine have utilized a wide variety of weapons and technology, but drones have been an integral weapon for both sides.
Throughout the invasion, thousands of drones have been used to pinpoint enemy positions, fire missiles, and guide artillery fire.
As both sides utilize different technologies, Ukraine has been deploying a military drone – the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2.
The drone is the same size as a small planed with cameras attached and can be armed with laser-guided bombs.
Dr. Jack Watling of think tank, the Royal United Services Institute or RUSI, says Ukraine started with a fleet of “fewer than 50” Bayraktars.
Meanwhile, Russia has primarily utilized Orlan-10, a smaller and more basic drone, according to Dr. Watling.
“Russia started the war with some thousands of them, and may have a few hundred left,” he said.
The Orlan drones also have cameras and can carry small bombs.
How effective are the drones?
The two drones have been helpful in finding enemy targets and guiding artillery fire.
“Russian forces can bring their guns to bear on the enemy within only three to five minutes of an Orlan-10 drone spotting a target,” noted Dr. Watling.
However, without them, carrying out an attack could take 20 to 30 minutes.
Dr. Marina Miron, a researcher in defense studies at King’s College London, pointed out that Ukraine was able to stretch its limited forces thanks to drones.
“If you wanted to seek out enemy positions in the past, you would have had to send out special forces units to do it,” she says.
“You might lose some troops. Now, all you’re risking is a drone.”
When the war first broke out, Ukraine’s utility of Bayraktar drones were widely praised.
“They were shown attacking targets, such as ammunition dumps, and played a part in the sinking of the [warship] Moskva,” Dr. Miron said.
Although widely praised, many Bayraktars have been destroyed by opposition defense systems over the months.
“They are largely, relatively slow-moving, and fly at only medium altitude,” Dr. Watling pointed out.
“That makes them easy to shoot down.”
Due to the expensive pricing, it is difficult to replace the drones. For example, one Bayraktar TB2 costs $2 million.
As a result, Ukraine has been using smaller, commercial models like the DJI Mavic 3, which costs a little over $2,000.
A Ukrainian drone manufacturer speculated the country deploys 6,000 drones, but there have been no confirmations.
The commercial drones can be fitted with small bombs, but they are mainly utilized to spot enemy troops and direct attacks.
The commercial drones aren’t as powerful as the military drones with only 30km flying distance and 46 minutes of travel.
“Ukraine doesn’t have as much ammunition as Russia,” says Dr. Miron.
“Having ‘eyes in the sky’ to spot targets and direct artillery fire means they can make better use of what they have.”
According to the White House, the Russians are getting their Sahid military drones from Iran.
Houthi rebels in Yemen use the same drones to attack targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Meanwhile, Ukraine received a supply of 700 Switchblade “kamikaze” military drones from the United States.
The drones are packed with explosives, loitering in the air until it finds a target.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX also provides Ukraine with the Starlink satellite communications system, creating a secure link between commercial drones and operators.
DJI stopped supplying Russia and Ukraine with drones.
Ukraine’s drone payment
Apart from US donations, Ukraine launched a crowdfunding appeal to buy 200 military drones.
“As well as large drones like [Bayraktar] TB2, they are looking for small, fixed-wing reconnaissance drones,” said Dr. Watling.
Eurovision Song Contest Ukrainian winners Kalush Orchestra sold their trophy for $900,000.
They donated the money to the drone appeal to buy three Ukrainian-made PD-2 drones.
Opinions expressed by NY Weekly contributors are their own.