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Ukraine: Showcasing the Benefits and Drawbacks of Drones
June 26, 2022
Photo Source: Baykar Makina

Ukraine: Showcasing the Benefits and Drawbacks of Drones

There is no doubt that drones are now a rallying emblem of Ukraine’s resistance against Russia’s invasion. Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2, for example, created enough of an impression to earn itself a place in Ukrainian folklore, and that too with its own theme song. From strike and reconnaissance medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) aircraft like the TB2 to loitering munitions like the Switchblade, Ukraine is arguably writing the rulebook for drone use conventional and asymmetrical warfare.

Today, the United States is doubling down by transferring four General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones to Ukraine. This is on top of the Switchblade and ‘Phoenix Ghost’ loitering munitions it is already supplying to the Ukrainian forces. One can reasonably expect Ukraine to receive additional drones in the future too.

However, ultimately, what will an abundance of drones strategically achieve for Ukraine?

When one examines the reality, they can see that Ukraine’s drone usage is having an effect. In the earlier leg of this war, Ukraine used its drones in a successful area-denial mission against Russian armour. In fact, Ukraine may have also used the TB2 in a targeting role against the Russian Navy’s Moskva cruiser.

Thus, at some level, drones work. They can inflict significant damage against conventional warfare assets, such as tanks, infantry, armoured personnel carriers, and potentially even surface-to-air missile (SAM) or air defence systems. Likewise, loitering munitions can be a potent precision-strike asset for lightly-armed units, such as infantry and lightweight vehicles.

However, Ukraine is getting the full benefit of drones when it uses those in combination with other assets. So, for example, even if Ukraine used the TB2 against Russia’s Moskva cruiser, the ‘fatal blows’ came from the Neptune anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM). Thus, to emulate that sort of strike again, Ukraine will need more ASCMs, but are those as forthcoming or accessible to Ukraine as drones?

With over 100 days passing since the start of Russia’s invasion, it seems that Moscow is – from a strategic perspective – still more than able to sustain its momentum. While it does suffer losses, Russia is still able to capture Ukrainian territory and, in turn, inflict significant losses on Ukraine.

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, alluded to the point that drones are not enough. He said, “With all due respect to Bayraktar, and to any hardware, I will tell you, frankly, this is a different war.”

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