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The War in Ukraine – Game of Drones?

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Eitan Divinsky

From cluster bombs to deadly drone boats, nothing in the War in Ukraine has gone as planned. To begin with, most experts didn’t expect Putin to actually attack the former Soviet republic and when he did, no one expected the war to last more than a couple of days.

The conventional school of thought had Russia’s giant army using the latest technological advances to storm Kyiv and occupy the country. Most expected a prolonged battle to follow, with Ukrainians unwilling to succumb to Russian rule and waging guerrilla warfare much like the Afghans in the 1980’s.

But things don't always follow the script, and after nearly a year and a half of fighting, Russia has lost up to 50,000 soldiers along with 17,000 tanks and 4,000 armored vehicles according to the UK’s army chief Admiral Tony Radakiood. Ukraine is now on the offensive after being armed by a conglomerate of allies stretching from South Korea to the U.S.

The world understands just how crucial this war is and is pouring all its military might – including armed drones –into the inferno. On one hand, you have Iran supplying Russia with thousands of Shahed “kamikaze” drones that have played a vital role staving off the Ukrainian counteroffensive and reaping havoc on cities and villages deep behind the front lines. On the other, Ukrainian operatives, many of them teenage gamers and university students, are striking fear into Russian units and wiping out entire tank battalions unaware that someone is carefully watching them until it’s too late.

Lately, there has been a spade of drone attacks deep within Russian territory – with one targeting the Kremlin – Moscow’s seat of power –and others attacking in some of the most luxurious parts of the capital city.

With both sides using drones to inflict countless suffering on their counterpart, the war has turned into a standoff between drone operators rather than planes and tank divisions. Just like military campaigns from years past have relied heavily on air superiority, tanks cutting off enemy lines, and pinpoint bombardment, this war has turned into a battle of drones.

Ukrainian operators gained unparalleled success using cheap Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2s, smashing Moscow’s amrored columns, and downing the Black Sea flagship battleship, the Moskva. Ukrainian media channels have made a daily practice of recording explosive-carrying drones dropping bombs on Russian troops, who have become more and more intimidated by these “presents from the sky” as the war drags on.

With both armies facing a prolonged stalemate, this war may come down to a numbers game. The more advanced strike and reconnaissance drones one side has, the better its chances of winning the war. Both sides have been using drone swarms and both appear to have their share of non-portable drone jammers to stifle the enemy. As duress kicks in, the question now appears to be: Which side will outlast the other?

The Ukraine War has set a number of precedents. A transition from conventional warfare to drone battles – at land, air, and sea, may be the biggest one yet.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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