• Cheap exploding drones have a reputation for being asymmetrical tank killers, but they’re more than that.
  • These weapons are unlike any other threat in Ukraine and are changing the way we fight.
  • The footage shows these creatures killing soldiers, even lone ones, in trenches, hideouts and in the open.

More and more often in Ukraine, not only tanks and armored vehicles fall victim to cheap, hobby drones filled with explosives. These weapons are seemingly everywhere, killing not only unlucky vehicle crews, but also infantry and sometimes even a single soldier. Everything that moves is at risk.

“Welcome to the future. This sucks,” a drone expert told Insider, as combat footage from Ukraine on social media increasingly shows that nothing and no one is safe from these weapons.

While war films still regularly show first-person view (FPV) drones striking tanks, armored personnel carriers and supply trucks, the footage also often shows precision attacks on dugouts, soldier hideouts, trenches, squads and lone soldiers.

The films, several of which appear in this article, are graphic depictions of the human cost of war and show how much these weapons, unlike anything else on the battlefield, actually change the conflict. As drone fleets grow larger and more pilots are trained in the technology, they inflict heavy casualties on enemy troops and contribute to increasingly static war lines.

No other weapon can do everything this amazing weapon does, from flying into vehicle hatches to chasing down soldiers. There is no rocket, bomb, a bullet or artillery shell that can do these things, at least not like this.

Samuel Bendett, a researcher in military robotics and unmanned systems, told Insider that not only are there more such drones, but drone operators are also engaging in so-called “free hunting,” where they seek out enemy targets and destroy whatever comes their way. found using the same drone.

“Previously, FPV attacks only took place after being detected by an ISR drone,” he said, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations. “Now FPV drones take off and look for a target in flight,” and when they find it, “they just hit it.”

These drones, often cheap hobby racing drones that cost several hundred dollars and are equipped with plastic explosives or a rocket-propelled grenade warhead, perform a combat role somewhere between a sniper rifle, a rocket and artillery, eliminating enemy vehicles and personnel alike.

The effect of these one-way systems is compounded by the lack of combat air forces near the front lines due to the high risk of being shot down. If a drone falls, the pilot simply sends another one.

“It’s this technology that allows you to very precisely hit exactly where you want it,” Bendett said.

“You can literally point it anywhere on a tank or armored vehicle. It can be maneuvered to hit this small, undefended area,” he said. “That’s why we see videos of them literally flying into manholes, doors and dugouts.”

Videos of drone strikes that appear on open-source intelligence channels almost daily are likely only a fraction of the drone operations being conducted, as many are likely to fail for a variety of reasons, from jams to simple battery drain.

But the effectiveness of the attacks, many of which have destroyed millions of dollars worth of tanks, has both Ukraine and Russia hunting each other down for drone operators, often using exploding drones.

A soldier of the Separate 14th Regiment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine holds an FPV strike drone on the front line on October 26, 2023 in the Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine.

A soldier of the Separate 14th Regiment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine holds an FPV strike drone on the front line on October 26, 2023 in the Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine.

Vitali Nosach/Getty Images

“This is the future of war”

The proliferation of exploding FPV drones, remotely controlled systems capable of delivering heavy blows with unparalleled precision, and other unmanned systems is changing the shape of the fighting in Ukraine.

While artillery and the use of significant amounts of ammunition remain a feature of the conflict, a Ukrainian service member said in September that his unit had not actually fired rifles in half a year and was using drones frequently.

A Ukrainian soldier said in a recording posted online that “this is the future of warfare: shooting each other with drones, not bullets or missiles.” Other branches did likewise commentstalking about abandoning more traditional weapons in favor of these deadly drones.

Bendett told Insider that this type of fighting could potentially lead to “a kind of stationary stalemate because each side can watch, track each other’s movements, and ultimately hit.”

“Any large-scale movement becomes very dangerous,” he said, adding that “ultimately both sides recognize that everything that moves, anyone who moves, can be observed, tracked and potentially hit by an FPV drone.” . It is clear from the films that this is the state of war today.


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