May 25, 2024

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How drones invaded the battlefield in Ukraine

How drones invaded the battlefield in Ukraine

According to experts, many remotely piloted vehicles have never been involved in a collision. But despite its many uses, the drone is far from replacing traditional weapons.

They are called the Orion, Merlin, Black Hornet and Pyrector, and they play a key role in the Ukrainian conflict for both Kiev and Moscow. In turn spy eyes, guided missiles and powerful torpedoes are as popular with players as drones are feared by the public. Residents of Odessa or Lviv, for example, find it hard to forget the dull hum of Shahed kamikaze drones, which have been launched in large numbers over their city by the Russian military for a year.

Through these devices, war has invaded Russian territory, with several attacks reported in Moscow and its surrounding region in recent months. At the end of August, drones targeted the Pskov Russian airport, 600 km from northern Ukraine, and destroyed at least one military aircraft. Heavy weapon damage Low cost : According to Ukrainian media, These are card machines, inspired Corvo PPDS Australian used for this task.

A Ukrainian soldier recovers a surveillance drone near Zaporizhia (Ukraine) on August 23, 2023.  (Andre Alves / Anadolu Agency / AFP)

Thanks to their reduced size (Black Hornet mini-drone Just 16 cm), these devices are lurking everywhere. In Ukraine, they are used so much that every 10 km section of the front line is usually flown 25 to 50 drones from two campsAccording to A study From Royal United Services Institute (TAST). It’s enough to interest militaries around the world who see Ukraine as a major testing ground.

Up to 9,000 drones are lost per month in Ukrainian territory alone

The number of drones Ukraine used to repel the Russian invasion has stunned experts. According to Rusi, the Ukrainian military loses about 300 drones per day, or about 9,300 devices per month. “This is unheard of!”franceinfo assures Ulrike Franke, a researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank based in Paris. “The Ukrainians have many systems, including small, cheap civilian drones, so they can be sacrificed”She explains.

The most accessible devices Kiev uses are quadcopters (drones with four propellers) originally designed for the general public, which typically cost around €500 per unit – although the bill can reach €15,000 for more robust machines. “Thanks to crowdfunding, people bought a lot of drones to give to Ukrainians”, related to Ulrike Franke. These civilian models are so good at spying that every Ukrainian unit has one or more drone pilots.

But these commercially available devices may also “Modified using 3D printers, can throw grenades and small bombs at enemies”, explains franceinfo Stéphane Audrand, a consultant specializing in weapons. Tunnels can be installed on FPVs, these extreme maneuvering drones are usually designed for racing. The Ukrainian military continues to share images of booby-trapped devices capable of penetrating Russian soldiers’ shelters before detonating.

Unlike most weapons, “Drones are generally made to get lost.”, analyzes Ulrike Franke. After “Over 20 Years of Technological Advancement”These devices are now manufactured by many countries, “Like China, Turkey or Israel”, The expert recalled. With one significant effect: they are less expensive and more accessible.

Devices designed for Ukrainian terrain

Beyond the financial aspect, the drone’s popularity can be explained by the specific conditions of the war in Ukraine. “Locking” of the skies for classic military aviation, after all, “Because there are so many anti-aircraft missiles, it greatly complicates strikes”, explains Stephen Adrant. More stealthy than fighters or bombers, armed drones have a better ability to strike behind enemy lines. This is the case of the Bayraktar TB2 on the Ukrainian side, the Orion on the Russian side, but especially the kamikaze drones used by Russia.

In September, Moscow’s forces registered this type of drone in Ukraine: 503 kamikaze devices, according to Countdown From the special issue Security Express. This is more than double the previous record of 246 drones recorded in July. These Shahed 136 type devices are supplied by Iran to Russia. But the regime of Vladimir Putin, “Who is using these drones as missiles”, Ulrike Franke explains, prefers to make her own machines. By the summer of 2025, 6,000 kamikaze drones should leave Russian factories, it was revealed in mid-August. The Washington Post.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky poses with a Shahed-136 suicide drone in Kew, Ukraine on October 27, 2022, shot down by the Ukrainian military.  (Presidency of Ukraine)

Drones are particularly useful in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine since May 2022. From the trenches around the devastated city of Bagmouth to the front line on the Dnieper River, these devices constantly scan the enemy. Positions. “It’s definitely the first use of a drone, to get a feel for the front end.”, Stephen Audrant recalls. Looking for the slightest movement of Russian troops, the Ukrainian army thus became. “One of the most ‘droned’ things in the world”Counsel explains.

“With Ukraine, a new stage has been reached”

The massive use of drones seems to have reshuffled the cards of military strategy. “With Ukraine, a new stage has been reached”Stephane Audrant assesses, he describes “Battlefield Deepening Movement.” henceforth, “Everyone should be careful” And players “No safe 100 km from the frontline”He explains.

“Each division can attack in the rear. Tactical command posts must be moving all the time. It’s a conflict where no one can rest.”

Stephen Adrant, weapons expert

At franceinfo

The same observation applies to the Navy. “Because Ukraine has very interesting naval drones”, recalls Ulrike Franke. In November 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Creation with great fanfare “World’s First Navy” Water weapons devices. Since then, it is difficult to know where the project stands. In early August, kyiv was actually very discreet when several naval drones attacked ships at the Russian base of Novorossiysk in the Black Sea.

“At sea, too, the zone of impunity is shrinking, Stephen Adrant notes. We can no longer approach within 150 or 200 nautical miles [entre 278 et 370 km] one side.” For the expert, Drones “Democratized Deep Strikes”, Like Moscow, it would be unthinkable for Kiev to do without it.

Drone “vital, but not central”

However, should these remote-controlled devices become the heart of a military strategy? Not particularly, warns Ulrike Franke. “We have the impression that this system is central, but in reality it is complementary to other mechanisms.”Her nuances. “Not all activities are organized around drones, Stephen urges Audrey to his part. Yes, they occupy a place we’ve never seen before, essential…but not central.

Be careful not to overstate the importance of these remote-controlled devices in conflict. Through their internal cameras, drones share their exploits. However, this does not apply to cannonballs “Half of the battlefield losses”Stephen Autrand remembers.

“There’s always been a kind of fascination with these devices that some people have at home. But let’s not forget the tanks, the artillery…we can’t win the war with drones.”

Ulrike Franke, researcher at the European Council on Foreign Affairs

At franceinfo

While very useful at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, the drone was not a miracle weapon for long. The Russian military has actually developed effective means of jamming the systems of Ukrainian aircraft. “By making navigational interference (…) electronic safe”Details of the taste In his statement. On the side of the Kiev forces, the old German Gebhardt tanks proved especially formidable against the Russian-launched machines, nicknamed. “Drone Killers”.

A metal detector drone used for demining in Kharkiv region (Ukraine), October 1, 2023.  (SERGEY BOBOK/AFP)

However, there is a massive use of drones in Ukraine “A case study for all forces, a testing ground for innovation”Trusts Ulrike Franke. “This conflict has particularly woken up Westerners who don’t have drones and some different models.”, she explains. In France, Nexter-KNTS Explain For example still being on stage “Studies” About these devices.

Ukrainians are already well accustomed to these devices, which should be ubiquitous. Even after an imaginary conclusion of the fight. Land or flying, drones are increasingly being used for demining tasks, and they last “Decades” According to experts.

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