Drone Warfare is a game changer

This technology and employment of unmanned aerial vehicles at the soldier level is unprecedented in modern warfare.



Drone warfare changes the face of Russian-Ukrainian War: The role of unmanned aerial vehicles

Drone warfare is a game changer in the Russian-Ukrainian War. It was reported recently that the Ukrainian Army has created the first “Attack Drone” units ever used in combat. This unit is composed of their most professional drone operators. The soldiers in this unit are supplied with the latest unmanned aerial vehicles with the most powerful propulsion units enabling long distance and loitering ability. They are also equipped with the latest explosive devices for these unmanned aerial vehicles. Additionally, each soldier will have their own Starlink satellite internet kit and the latest in accessories to engage the enemy at the lowest level of employment.

The Russians are utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles in this war; however, they have been substantially behind the Ukrainian army in their effective employment of drones down to the individual soldier level. The Ukrainian Army has been highly effective in utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles in targeting enemy vehicles, buildings and concentrations of enemy troops on the ground. An Ukrainian soldier will first employ the unmanned aerial vehicle in a reconnaissance role in locating the target. Next, they will assess the exact target location within inches of the intended target. From there, they will relay the exact location to an indirect weapon like an artillery vehicle to fire on the target. This entire sequence can be completed in less than a minute which makes it near to real time engagement within an exact location. This may sound simple, however, technology and tactics have only recently evolved enough to make this robot-like warfare possible. In the following, I will describe some of the unmanned aerial vehicles utilized by both sides in the Russian-Ukrainian war.

The Russian made Kvazimachta is a nonlethal unmanned aerial vehicle. It is designed to hover in a fixed location to provide an “eagle eye” type of observation. It has an electrical cable attached to this unmanned aerial vehicle that limits this quadcopter to around 210 feet above the control device on the ground. It is able to stay aloft without maintenance for up to three days. The Kvazimachta is equipped with a high-resolution camera and telecommunications hardware. This system can be recovered quickly and reset in a new location to provide continuous reconnaissance.

The Aerorozvidka R18 is made in Ukraine. This octocopter can fly without lights on for stealth and uses a thermal imaging camera for targeting enemy troops and armored vehicles. It is designed to drop explosives up to 3.2 lb. It has no legs and has a specialized platform to take off from and requires a soldier to catch it upon landing.

The DJI Mavic unmanned aerial vehicle is made in China and utilized by both sides in the current war. It utilizes a low-quality camera with a wide-angle lens. It is used for surveillance and dropping single grenades. The company makes a radar system which is able to detect other DJI unmanned aerial unmanned vehicles making it potentially able to be detected by either side.

The Orlan-10 is a Russian made unmanned aerial vehicle utilizing a catapult to be launched into flight. It utilizes a loud fuel-powered engine which makes it very easy to detect and shoot down. It is used for reconnaissance, dropping multiple explosive devices, jamming cell phone towers and sending texts to Ukrainian soldiers encouraging them to surrender.

The Bayraktar TB2 is a Turkish made unmanned aerial vehicle that utilizes explosive devices against troops and armored vehicles. This unmanned aerial vehicle was highly effective in the beginning of the war. It is not very effective now that the Russian forces have deployed air defenses that can target this noisy slow flying unmanned aerial vehicle. It is now used for long range surveillance missions.

The Russian made Kronshtadt Orion is a very large unmanned aerial vehicle that is capable of firing air to air missiles. It is capable of staying aloft for up to twenty-four hours after launching. Its unique design makes it difficult to detect by radar. A very small number of these unmanned aerial vehicles have been utilized by Russian air forces in a surveillance mode.

The Switchblade 300 is an American made unmanned aerial vehicle designed for one-time use by the Ukrainian Army. It weighs less than 2 lb and is small enough to go into a soldier’s backpack. The system utilizes a live-feed video to find targets up to 6 miles away. It can release multiple explosive devices that are lethal to soldiers and unarmored vehicles.

The Geran-2 is an Iranian made Russian utilized suicide unmanned aerial vehicle with explosive devices that are designed to be launched in swarms of five or more units at a time. This swarming capability enhances the ability of the swarm to overwhelm air defense forces. Recently, more advanced western made air defense systems now have the capability to shoot down swarms of Geran-2 unmanned aerial vehicles.

Various levels of Artificial Intelligence are embedded into virtually all unmanned aerial vehicles being utilized in the Russian-Ukrainian War. The nine levers of Artificial Intelligence that can be utilized by unmanned aerial vehicles include Perception, Motion, Reasoning, Planning, Knowledge Representation, Language Processing, Social Intelligence, General Intelligence & Machine Learning. Perception is the unmanned aerial vehicle’s ability to utilize sensory input. Motion is the ability of the unmanned aerial vehicle’s ability to break down the desired movement to achieve the mission. Reasoning is the ability of the unmanned aerial vehicle to translate mission data into mission accomplishment. Planning is the ability of the unmanned aerial vehicle to achieve the mission based upon preset movements. Knowledge representation is the ability of an unmanned aerial vehicle to utilize its memory. Language processing is the ability of an unmanned aerial vehicle to utilize its machine language to translate common language input. Social intelligence is the ability of the unmanned vehicle to utilize social data. General intelligence is the ability of the unmanned aerial vehicle to utilize its database to solve problems in flight. Machine learning is the ability to utilize the unmanned aerial vehicle computer’s vision to complete the mission. 

In the future, it is very possible that modern warfare may be conducted without direct human interaction. With advances in artificial intelligence along with improvements in both technology and tactics, we may see wars fought between robots in the land, sea or air without human engagement. The implications of this future scenario evoke images of science fiction movies where the robots turn on their human inventors when they have achieved self-awareness.