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UAVs at war: how drones aid Ukraine’s victory

The Bayraktar TB2 isn't the only type of unmanned aerial vehicle that aids Ukraine's victory and serves as our warriors' "eyes".

@material: https://thepage.ua/ua/politics/yak-bayraktar-zminiv-pravila-vijn-ta-distavsya-ukrayini

SPEKA analyzed what types of drones are used in Ukraine’s fight against Russia and what functions they perform.

Tactical civil drones: who uses them

Ukrainian fighters need tactical drones for locating enemy personnel and equipment and giving their coordinates to Ukrainian air forces and artillery.

This is the first level: such drones are usually used at the platoon, company, or battalion level.

Despite being not military but commercial drones like the Chinese DJI and Autel, they’re needed at war in the largest quantities. The effective communication range of communication is 5–6 km versus the claimed 10 km.

Tactical civil drones are used at close distances. Photo: pyn.com.ua

Tactical civil drones are used at close distances. Photo: pyn.com.ua

Ukraine doesn’t manufacture military analogues; however, they aren’t needed, says Andrii Makarenko, chief instructor of the UAV branch at the Boryviter (Kestrel) Military School.

According to him, civil drones started to be used en masse in the Syrian war, and later this practice has spread all over the world.

Quote"Even if we start developing a special military drone for this purpose, it will immediately become more expensive," Makarenko explains.

The advantage of DJI and Autel is that they are semi-automatic and therefore can be used for real-time adjustment of artillery fire. Because of their limited hovering and flight time, they are launched in so-called carousels, with one drone following the other.

Civil drones are also occasionally rigged with mortar shells or grenades. However, the accuracy of such weapons doesn’t exceed 20%, and mounting munitions to UAVs is associated with high risk.

Operational-tactical UAVs: Leleka and Furia

Operational-tactical UAVs are used to adjust several artillery groups at once or more powerful artillery than those adjusted with tactical drones. These UAVs are used at the battalion or brigade level.

There are many of them developed in Ukraine: Leleka, Furia, and Valkyrja have proved to be effective and are even exported.

The Furia and Leleka UAVs and their capabilities [video]

These fixed-wing drones cannot hover and therefore need a pre-planned route. However, they have a range of 20–30 km and can be used for reconnaissance.

The Furia has a range of 50 km. Photo: mil.gov.ua

The Furia has a range of 50 km. Photo: mil.gov.ua

These drones cost a minimum of 10 million UAH (more than $250,000) and need a catapult to take off and a parachute to land. Operational-tactical UAVs help scout the enemy’s "gray zones" at the frontline to locate areas of concentration of enemy vehicles.

These drones have a number of advantages over civil ones: their communication channels are more secure, and the images they capture are of higher quality. Moreover, even when the enemy uses electronic warfare equipment, these UAVs can return to the base.

FPV drones (first person view) are a special type of UAV: their operator can observe the video captured by the drone camera using FPV goggles. Some of them can speed up to 140–180 km/h.

These latter drones are used to distract the enemy or even as kamikaze drones, but they are harder to master.

Operative UAVs: what their advantage is

Operational UAVs work at a distance of 150–200 km. Photo: Wikipedia

Operational UAVs work at a distance of 150–200 km. Photo: Wikipedia

There are also operative UAVs produced in Ukraine; for example, PD-1 and PD-2. These are higher-level military drones used at the level of a brigade or several brigades at once.

Such drones have a range of 150–200 km and a serious protection system. Operative military UAVs work in conjunction with missile complexes, multiple-launch rocket systems, and coastal defense missile systems.

Fourth level drones: the level of the General Staff of Ukraine

Operative-strategic and strategic level UAVs can conduct deep reconnaissance, reaching hundreds of kilometers into the enemy’s rear. Their task is to find strategic objects, positions of enemy air defense, or missile forces.

The Bayraktar is used for special tasks only. Photo: Wikipedia

The Bayraktar is used for special tasks only. Photo: Wikipedia

Such drones are used by army headquarters or the General Staff of the AFU. Today, the need to use strategic level UAVs for reconnaissance is declining because of satellites that provide data of similar quality without the risk of losing expensive equipment. Still, satellites cannot fully substitute strategic drones, although technologies continue developing.

It’s the deep reconnaissance that the famous Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones are used for, helping Ukraine fight this full-scale war for months.

Given that their price is $1–2,5 million for one vehicle, they are used only for special tasks like destroying command centers or electronic intelligence systems.

No Ukrainian analogue has been created, while the development of Sokil-300 by Design Bureau "Luch" is still underway.

Ukrainian attack drones: Punisher and R-18

The Punisher is one of the world's smallest and cheapest attack UAVs. Photo: mil.in.ua

The Punisher is one of the world's smallest and cheapest attack UAVs. Photo: mil.in.ua

There are also Ukrainian-made attack drones, namely the Punisher and the R-18, which are basically planes with munitions on board that select their targets.

The Punisher is one of the world’s smallest and cheapest reusable attack drones. Meanwhile, the R-18 is approximately the size of a washing machine and is intended to destroy armored vehicles.

An R-18 helps destroy enemy tanks [video]

They are self-guided, and the R-18 usually flies at night using a thermal imager due to the sound it makes. To perform a successful strike using these UAVs, you need to have good knowledge of the terrain.

Andrii Makarenko says that the development of Ukrainian drones is picking up steam, while the improvement of existing models and adaptation of foreign ones still prevail.

How drone operators are trained in Ukraine

Since February 24, the Boryviter school has trained 1,200 military people, mostly UAV and air reconnaissance operators. Before the full-scale invasion, the full training course took 3 months, but now it has been shortened to 2–3 weeks, provided that the trainees have taken the basic 5-day course before.

Instructors work with trainees both in Kyiv and near the frontline. The operator and navigator typically work in pairs, alternating their roles.

The main thing operators have to learn is how to work without endangering themselves and their fellows, so it’s necessary to take care of the retreat path, shelter, and digital security. The life of the operator is the first priority, followed by retaining the drone, and only then the reconnaissance data.

Operators are also trained abroad to master foreign military drones.

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