Recent media reports about the ongoing invasion of Ukraine show the scant use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drones by Russia, while Ukraine appears to be using its recently bought drones to counter the invasion. Ukraine’s drone fleet has destroyed crucial Russian supply trucks, delayed the Russian military’s advances, and exposed the Russian army’s vulnerabilities. The Ukrainian drone fleet, although small compared to the Russian drone fleet, posed a tactical barrier for the Russians.
Importance of UAVs and Drones
UAVs and drones lend a tactical advantage to the armed forces. When cruising over a battle territory, drones help spot the enemy’s movements, pinpoint artillery/tactical positions, and help chalk out the checkpoint locations. If a drone is spotted, it often indicates the imminent arrival of a massive barrage of rockets with devastating effects or signals the spotter of an immediate threat. Information is paramount during the war and UAVs provide this critical information covertly from a safe distance without risking human life. As drone wars become normal in modern warfare, countries are queuing up to procure and develop technologies such as Counter-Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS), Electronic Warfare (EW), Unmanned Aircraft (or Aerial) System (UAS), and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to secure an edge in the battlefield.
Russia’s Drone Armory
Russia has one of the highly advanced fleets of drones in the world. Among these fleets is the Orion combat drone, which is an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) developed by the Kronstadt Group (a subsidiary of Sistema). The development of the Orion drones began as early as 2011 and completed their test flights in 2015-16.
Russia also procures drones and UAS technology from other countries and companies. But with Russia invading Ukraine, some companies have pulled out from Russia. Among these companies is Czech drone manufacturer Primoco UAV SE, which halted its activities in the Russian market and sold its local subsidiary AO Primoco BPLA.
Ukraine’s Modest Drone Fleet
Amid the war, Ukraine has been using all possible means to stop the invasion, sometimes even with homemade drones. Even though the Russian fleet humbles the drone fleet size and technology of Ukraine, the latter does have a few indigenously developed systems such as the People’s Drone PD-1. It is a multipurpose UAS manufactured by the Ukrainian firm, UkrSpecSystems, and was formally bought by the Ukrainian military force in 2016.
In early February 2022, Turkey and its Black Sea ally Ukraine agreed to co-produce the popular Turkish drone, Bayraktar TB2, at a site in Ukraine. The Bayraktar TB2 is developed and manufactured by Turkish company Baykar Defence.
Poland Procures Drones
Poland is the immediate neighbor of Ukraine. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and increasing concerns over this act, Poland placed an order for an undisclosed number of MQ-9 Reaper drones from the US under a special and accelerated procedure. The Polish Armed Forces are the first military in NATO’s eastern region to purchase these medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAVs. General Atomics manufactures the MQ-9 Reaper. Poland also expects the delivery of drones in 2022 under the “Zefir” and “Gryf” UCAV programs that the Polish Ministry of Defence signed to modernize its defense systems under the Technical Modernization Program 2013-2022.
With more and more countries developing or procuring unmanned aerial technologies, warfare’s future seems to be shaped by these covert drones.