“We have already been back and forth to Ukraine twice, once with 188 drones and once with 101 drones,” says Bas Könning from EyesonUkraine.eu. The DJI mini2 drones, 550 euros each, were paid for with mainly Dutch donations. They go to Ukrainian citizens, journalists, but also to soldiers.
The war in Ukraine is mainly one of heavy conventional weapons: tanks, missiles, artillery and fighter jets. But there is also a major role for unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or drones, from heavily armed military drones to rebuilt hobby drones and small turnkey ones like the DJI mini2.
‘They are very small drones, smaller than 250 grams, and no larger than a sunbird. They can carry nothing else, no weapons, but they have a good camera, are easy to control and are wind-repellent. You can get a good picture of the situation on the ground from a height of 100 meters, and at that height they can hardly be seen or heard, “says Könning.
also read The Turkish defense industry is booming thanks to the success of the armed drone
Most notable is the Turkish armed drone Bayraktar, or TB2, a six-meter propeller aircraft with a petrol engine. Remotely controlled from a shipping container, the drone can fly around for 27 hours and fire four laser-guided bombs or anti-tank missiles along the way. With a top speed of 220 kilometers per hour and a ceiling of eight kilometers, the drone has proven extremely effective at targeting Russian tanks, rocket launchers and armored vehicles.
With a stream of spectacular videos of exploding tanks and other equipment, Bayraktar also plays a major role in the war propaganda of the Ministry of Defense, aided by the song that Ukrainian Taras Borovok wrote about it: “The occupiers came to us in Ukraine / With new uniforms and war machines / But their inventory melted only /…Bayraktar. “
Actually, the relatively slow and large drone should be an easy prey for Russian air defense, yet they seem to be shot down only sporadically, possibly because they are also used cautiously, especially in areas where the Russian air defense is not strong.
At the start of the invasion, Ukraine reportedly had a handful, shortly after it announced new deliveries of several dozen. New Bayraktar videos are still being released, and unconfirmed reports say a Bayraktar was involved in an attack on the cruiser Moscow, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
Smaller, cheaper and lighter drones have also been used creatively. One day after the raid, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense issued an appeal: “Do you have a drone? Then give it to an experienced pilot! Or do you know how to fly a drone? Join a joint patrol.”
Unarmed minidrons can spy on Russian troops, tanks and artillery or serve as a sentry hovering over units day and night to protect them. In combination with artillery, they can form a deadly combination: the drone catches the first, missing shot, then the direction of the shot is easy to correct, so the next shot is hit.
Therefore, unarmed minidrons from EyesonUkraine are more than welcome. A group of Finnish citizens have also raised money for 140 DJI Mini 2 drones, which were delivered to Ukraine in early March.
A slightly larger type of rebuilt hobby drone, of the brand Autel, can drop bombs on command. A video shows how the drone, nicknamed ‘Baby Bayraktar’, is bombing Russian soldiers in the field.
Even larger, armed drones are being built by the Ukrainian army unit Aerorozvidka (air reconnaissance), started as a group of volunteers from the IT sector and the hobby drone sector. Using crowdfunding, they buy drones and parts, which they convert and expand as needed.
There are surveillance drones equipped with infrared cameras that map positions, as well as heavier drones that can drop 1.5 kg of bombs and anti-tank grenades. As a kilometer-long column of Russian tanks and other military vehicles advanced toward Kiev, Aerorozvidka units on quad bikes set out to harass the tanks and armored vehicles from the forests, causing the column to be captured.
But there are other drone applications as well. Canadian drone manufacturer Draganfly, which specializes in disaster relief and rescue drones, supplies Ukraine with drones to drop medical supplies and unspecified “equipment” in besieged areas. Cheaper, older models are deliberately sacrificed to provoke Russian air defense. Each very expensive air defense missile is a smaller one and can also reveal the enemy’s air defense positions.
Other anti-drone measures include jamming or jamming of radio signals, or tracking the driver and then harassing him. Bas Könning from EyesonUkraine: “The manufacturer of the DJI drones has released software, Aeroscope, which can request information from all DJI drones flying nearby, including the mobile phone connected to the controller, including the driver’s GPS position . “
A YouTube video shows how a projectile hits exactly where a Ukrainian soldier landed a drone seconds earlier. According to Könning, the danger of Aeroscope can be circumvented with a software update that makes the DJI forget that he is a DJI.
A new drone variant is the American-supplied Switchblade, an example of this lottery ammunition (hovering ammunition): Drones that can fly around for a while before being fired on command like a kamikaze against a target. They can be carried in a backpack and can be fired by a soldier from a tube placed on the ground and controlled with a tablet screen. The United States has promised thousands to Ukraine, some of whom are already on the battlefield. Ukrainian soldiers are trained in its use in the United States.
The Russian armed forces also have drones at their disposal, such as the Orlan-10 surveillance drones, dozens of which have been crashed and shot down, Zala Kyb hovering ammunition and the Kronshtadt Orion, a large armed drone. However, Russian drones do not appear to be being used massively or effectively in Ukraine, as they have been in previous Russian wars in Syria, for example. According to experts, this is mainly due to the fact that Russia has lagged behind in anti-drone measures, while Ukraine may have support from NATO’s anti-drone technology.
The next batch of EyesonUkraine minidrons is ready at a warehouse in Enschede. “We’re on the move again next week,” said Könning, a media designer who was regularly in Ukraine before the war. He founded his aid organization together with a Ukrainian friend with contacts in the aviation world.
also read Possible loss of Russian cruiser after Ukrainian shelling ‘symbolic of a huge blow’
Crossing the border for the first time was quite cumbersome. We were at the border between Poland and Ukraine at 11 o’clock in the morning, papers were checked indefinitely, dialed up and dialed up again. We were not on the other side until half past one. It was cold, dark, and there was a curfew. ” But once in Lviv, the cargo was very welcome. The Dutch deliver them to a Ukrainian travel agency for aviation personnel, who forwards them. “We do not need to know what they are doing with it,” says Könning, “there is a call to share pictures and we are receiving it. But we have not seen any military use yet, but we have seen pictures of individual soldiers , who says ‘thank you for the drone’.
Correction (April 15, 2022): In an earlier version of this article, the name of the organization Eyes on Ukraine was misspelled. It is addressed above.
A version of this article was also published in NRC Handelsblad on 15 April 2022