In yesterday’s update, Mark Sumner wrote about Russia’s use of FPV drones as kamikaze weapons. Ukraine has already been using them for several months.
An FPV (First Person View) drone is a racing drone piloted by a virtual-reality-headset.
They are much cheaper than your typical drone, as they lack the sophisticated image stabilization electronics and crystal clear cameras of your typical Mavic commercial drone. In other words, they won’t hover over a target and provide perfectly steady video, so you won't catch these spotting artillery or tracking enemy troop movements. What they do have is speed and maneuverability. Certain models can fly up to 120 miles per hour, and they are unbelievably nimble. Watch one in action with an experienced operator:
That speed and power is part of their military value—those powerful motors allow Ukraine (and Russia, I guess) to add heavier warheads than the small grenades carried by the typical commercial drone. They won’t hit their targets at 120 MPH, but they don’t need to. With a rocket-propelled-grenade (RPG) warhead, these things can be lethal:
This is what it looks like in action:
In this Forbes article, tech writer and drone expert David Hambling digs into Russian rumors that Ukraine has bought 50-100,000 FPG drones for use in its upcoming spring counteroffensive. “Russian Engineer” went viral on Telegram with this dire warning:
Recently, it has become known that, in terms of drones, buyers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have bought up almost the entire market of FPV drone components in China, according to indirect estimates, by 50-100 thousand units. They have already trained more than a thousand operators of these models. They make them into kamikaze with a shaped charge warhead from RPG-7, or with a fragmentation grenade. And they have accumulated all this before the offensive.
There are several reasons this is likely all bullcrap: 1) How would this guy know Ukraine’s purchasing decisions? 2) Is he really saying that China can only produce 50-100,000 of these drones? 3) How did he come upon secret information on how many people Ukraine is training to operate drones? And 4) how does he know how many drones Ukraine has already accumulated? I mean, given that he’s the sole source for all this information, we can be skeptical that it’s real.
But that aside, let’s imagine what 50-100,000 kamikaze drones could do to punch holes in Russia’s extensive (and growing) network of defensive entrenchments in its occupied territory.
Failing to take any significant ground in their winter offensive, all indications are that Russia will happily sit in those trenches and wait out any Ukrainian response. Back home, Putin has announced a drive to recruit 400,000 new contract soldiers. They won’t get volunteers, and will likely need to do another stealth mobilization, but the last thing Ukraine needs is to give Russia time to plop more bodies in all those trenches. Drone swarms would certainly be useful to speed up Ukraine’s inevitable victory.
This is what drones can do in trenches:
A couple dozen pinpoint drone strikes on infantry manning a trench would render that segment inoperable. Thousands of these strikes would be game-changing, facilitating an armored spearhead charge straight through Russian lines and into their rear areas. And while I’m going to officially doubt that 50-100,000 drone number, it’s clear that Ukraine is stockpiling those drones.
That’s what, 120 of them? And unlike the fancy drones with image stabilization and sharp cameras, these only cost anywhere from $350-700 each. As of now, each one of these drones needs an individual operator, and the radio bands to control them are limited. So best-case scenario, we wouldn’t be seeing literal swarms of them descending on Russian targets. But that day isn’t far away.
You might remember the drone light show from the Tokyo Olympics:
Such displays of drone coordination are only getting more complex.
The military application is obvious. So obvious, that it really calls into question, once again, the survivability of conventional forces in such a world. China can build all the billion-dollar warships it wants, but what good are they if they are under attack from wave after wave of drone swarms? Crossing the Taiwan Strait suddenly becomes a near-impossibility.
American forces in Syria have been under sustained drone attack for the past week. For now, they are unsophisticated cheap drones. What happens when this capability becomes available to pretty much anyone? My son is deploying to the Middle East soon. This has suddenly gotten very personal to me.
Electronic countermeasures will be important, obviously, but those can be thwarted.
Ukraine hadn’t destroyed a single one of those Russian electronic warfare vehicle all war. This week it has destroyed three of them, all while drones happily fly around them, unscathed, unaffected, within range of the system. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I’m going to guess that the measure-countermeasure-counter-countermeasure game of cat and mouse suddenly landed in Ukraine’s favor.
Even if they worked, Russia doesn’t have enough anti-drone countermeasure devices to cover the entire front. So that “Russian engineer” Telegram blogger has a solution—shotguns.
Our EW [Electronic Warfare] installations have many drawbacks - there are not many of them, they are large, and are in themselves interesting targets. You need a lot of small EW installations so that they are everywhere [...]
According to the feedback from the fighters, a shotgun helps specifically against such FPV, specifically the Saiga-12. They fly at low altitudes, and a good shooter may well shoot down this drone.
LOL good luck with that. Talk about a high-stakes shot—identifying the drone, aiming for it while it dives toward the trench at high speed, and then hitting it with a once-in-a-lifetime shot. The author of the Forbes piece drily notes, “No images of drones brought down by shotgun have yet appeared.”
Remember this the next time some idiot conservative whines about “woke army” or the loss of traditional norms of masculinity:
This is incredible footage of a couple of dozen Russian infantrymen assaulting a trench with reportedly eight Ukrainian defenders. It’s in two parts:
In their telegram channel, the K2 unit posted:
Six meters wide. 30 meters along. Seven days of constant struggle for this piece of Ukrainian land.
Today we are publishing the continuation of the fight for one of the positions of our battalion. Recall that more than 30 Russians attacked the "T" position.
Our eight brothers in the trenches fought an unequal fight. Most of the enemy group has been destroyed. The invaders, however, approached the trenches.
Our battalion reserve, already rushing to support, has the power to turn the tide of battle.
It is the most intense combat footage I’ve seen to date. The situation is so desperate that the Ukrainian defenders essentially call artillery support on their own position in order to stave off the assault.
In part II, the Russians finally manage to clear the trench (seemingly), before a Ukrainian tank and armored infantry fighting vehicle show up to eliminate the surviving Russians. A note at the end of the video claims that “Despite heroic resistance the position was lost in the night battle. It was regained a few days later and is under K2 control.”
Is it any wonder conservatives love Putinism?
Someone explain to me how Americans can put chips in Russia’s own (shitty, ineffective) vaccine?
Love this video:
I’m still laughing at Putin’s claim that Russia will build 1,600 new tanks.
What Putin leaves unsaid … why would Russia need to build 1,600 new tanks to maintain a 3-to-1 advantage over Ukrainian ones, if the 10,000 tanks it claimed pre-war were still operational?
Finally, as Mark noted yesterday, Russia can build tank husks, but it lacks the electronics that actually make them operational.
This is a laugh…
Russia claims only 18,000 combat losses, with a quarter of those being POWs in Ukraine’s hands. So only around 13,500 combat dead.
For their part, this is the latest tally from the Ukrainian government:
It’s fair to say the actual number of Russian dead is somewhere closer to 170,000 than 13,500.
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