Drones redefine warfare in Ukraine: from surveillance to facilitating surrenders
Both Ukrainians and Russians employ drones for a variety of tasks. Primarily, they're used for surveillance, guiding artillery toward detected targets. Drones fitted with thermal imaging cameras are found to be particularly helpful.
The second most common use of drones is for kinetic attacks. They do this by operating them as bombers, releasing explosive charges, or "kamikaze" drones that carry explosive devices attached with adhesive tape.
Interestingly, drones have proved helpful for other tasks like searching for missing people, delivering medical aid to the injured, and even facilitating modes of surrender. For instance, the footage below exhibits a Russian soldier's surrender after enduring an attack rather than facing an imminent second explosive event. The drone then directed the soldier towards the Ukrainian positions, leading to his final capture.
Commercial drones deployment in Ukraine
Commercial drones of different weight categories are being used in Ukraine. One such category consists of drones weighing 2.2 lbs or less, modified for reconnaissance or grenade dropping. Drones from the Anafi Thermal Parrot and DJI Mavic 3 families, weighing 0.7lbs and 2lbs respectively, are well-preferred.
The former can fly for approximately 26 minutes at a 2.5-mile distance and comes equipped with a thermal camera of 160x120 pixel resolution, operating in the elusive 8-14 μm band. The latter offers roughly 40 minutes of flight time and can transport a payload of up to 1.5 lbs, sufficient for carrying a used RGD-5 grenade with a blast radius of approximately 49 feet. The mid-20th-century design grenade weighs around 0.66 lbs, a third of which is explosive material encapsulated in a steel body, generating about 300 fragments in an explosion.
Especially within the context of first-person view (FPV) drones, drones are assembled from critical components, such as a frame, electric motors, propellers, a battery, and a camera. To these drones, Ukrainians fasten bomblets from cluster ammunition or PG-7VL anti-tank grenades, capable of piercing 20 inches of armored steel. These provide a precision weapon with an operational range of a few hundred meters to 0.6 miles.
The second category consists of larger drones like the DJI Matrice 300 RTK that can carry heavier payloads, like mortar shells. Able to carry anything between 6lbs to around 44lbs, these drones can remain airborne for up to an hour at altitudes reaching 2.5 miles. These drones also have a range of up to 6.2 miles. Besides serving as bombers, they also function as airborne signal amplifiers for other drones.