Drones Make Nowhere Safe in Ukraine’s River War


In Kherson, Ukraine, one can see Russian-occupied territory from the western bank of the Dnipro river. Russian troops are hidden on the other side of the river, their presence marked by incoming artillery fire. The Ukrainian soldiers stationed here are part of a unit dealing with a new aspect of warfare: drones.

Inside a militarised living room, the soldiers prepare to counteract Russian drones launched from across the river. Their goal is to destroy the drone pilots, using their own drones loaded with grenades. One such drone is flown by Artem, a 20-year-old pilot, who uses a VR headset to guide it into occupied territory and destroy an antenna next to a window in a block of flats.

Despite constant interference from Russian jamming systems, the Ukrainian soldiers persist in their drone attacks. Each drone costs around $500, but the potential damage they can inflict on Russian infrastructure is significant. For example, Tymur, the commander of the Samosud squad in Ukraine’s 11th National Guard Brigade, claims his team once destroyed an S-350 air defence missile system worth $136m.

However, the Ukrainians are also under constant surveillance and attack from Russian drones. Life in Kherson has been drained due to this constant threat. Despite this, Ukrainian forces continue to adapt and innovate. A new £2.5bn military aid package from the UK, with £200m specifically for drones, has been welcomed. Additionally, President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to manufacture a million drones within Ukraine.

Drone pilots are being trained rapidly, with just 14 hours of training required to qualify. The government is encouraging citizens to participate in free training and even manufacture drones at home for use at the front. The importance of drones in this war is clear, as they represent a new frontier in warfare technology. However, for significant changes to occur at the front lines, multiple innovations need to happen simultaneously.

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