Why Ukraine’s drones are becoming ineffective against Russia?

In the early days of the war in Ukraine, drones emerged as an unexpected source of victory against Russian forces.

Stories of its success dominated the news cycle, playing out in multiple video clips that were widely circulated on social media, and showing Ukraine’s drones decimating Russia’s chaotic advance.

Ukraine’s ad-hoc drone air force, from small consumer drones typically used for surveillance to the famous Turkish-designed Bayraktar TB2 drones, have been credited with taking apart Putin’s tanks and armor.

But Russia has learned from the humiliation by drones in the early months of the invasion. Experts told Insider that the drone miracle weapons are becoming increasingly ineffective as Russia has improved its defense systems and is taking down and jamming many of Ukraine’s drones.

“What’s happening now is that Russia’s electronic warfare and air defenses are better organized and deployed compared to the earlier months of the war,” said Samuel Bendett, an analyst and expert in unmanned and robotic military systems, at the Center for Naval Analysis. †

Russian troops are using early warning radars to identify the drones and electronic warfare systems to block and disrupt their communications, Bendett said.

They also use various weapons such as machine guns and air defense systems, such as the Tor missile system, to shoot down the drones.

Recent footage from the Russian Defense Ministry claimed to show a Krasukha-S4 electronic warfare system in action, knocking out a Ukrainian drone.

According to Mark Cancian, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Ukraine was previously able to deploy drones so effectively because Russia had not organized its defense systems.

Drones could play such a role because the Russians were slow in setting up an air defense system. They were slow in setting up the combined arms operation (armor, infantry, artillery, reconnaissance, engineers, air defense) their doctrine required,” he said. said.

A video shows a kamikaze drone hitting a Russian tank.

A Ukrainian kamikaze drone has hit a Russian tank.

Screengrab/Ukrainian Special Operations Forces


Russia has better organized and positioned its air defenses from the ground in the Donbas region, where the center of gravity of the war has shifted.

Ukrainian troops are now limiting their use of drones because Russian forces can more easily thwart them, and losing drones can be costly.

While single-use drones like the Switchblade and Phoenix Ghost cost several thousand dollars each, the TB2 drones can cost anywhere from $1-2 million each.

Ukraine has received about 50 TB2 drones from Turkish arms company Baykar since the start of the Russian invasion.

Relentlessly effective in the early days of the war, the TB2s have begun to be shot down by Russia, and the Ukrainian military is scaling back their use.

Recently, reports have emerged that the US plans to sell Ukraine-made General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle weaponized drones, which have greater capabilities than the TB2s.

However, two unnamed Ukrainian Air Force pilots told The War Zone that they are not advocating for the drones due to the hefty price tag of $10 million each, as they are likely to be shot down on their first mission.

According to Cancian, Russia’s air defenses are almost entirely short, and medium-range missiles and drones are particularly vulnerable because they fly low and slow.

“Ukrainian pilots I’ve spoken to say that the role of drones is now limited as a result,” he said.

Instead, Ukrainian forces have advocated modern fighter jets from their Western allies.

Ukrainian soldier shoots at Russian drone

A Ukrainian soldier fires at a Russian drone with an assault rifle from a frontline trench east of Kharkov, March 31, 2022.

FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images


As Ukraine’s drones become less effective in this new phase of the war, Russia flies as many, if not more, of their drones, especially for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, CNA expert Bendett said.

The Ukrainians don’t have the weapons to shoot them, and one soldier told The Sunday Times: “We can’t see the Russian drones, but they can see us. All we can do is hide.”

Bendett said the coming weeks will likely involve the Russian military in efforts to better organize and advance in its offensive.

“It tries to lock up Ukrainians in pockets around certain towns and villages and just tries to push and grind the Ukrainian defenses in general. Drones play a key role in returning intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to the Russians so they can attack.” run from the ground and the air,” Bendett said.

“So we’re going to see drones on the Russian side, assuming it probably becomes even more important in the future, assuming the war continues as it is now.”

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