TechUkraine's drones triumph despite Russian electronic warfare barriers

Ukraine's drones triumph despite Russian electronic warfare barriers

Ukrainian "mosquito of death" right after takeoff.
Ukrainian "mosquito of death" right after takeoff.
Images source: © X (dawniej Twitter) | OSINTtechnical

6:42 AM EDT, May 28, 2024

It looks like Ukrainians have managed to regain some freedom to use drones over territory protected by Russian electronic warfare systems. We explain how this is possible.

The conflict in Ukraine has highlighted the effectiveness of drones in war and the importance of methods to counter them. Drones monitor the battlefield, coordinate artillery fire, and conduct kinetic attacks.

Both Ukrainians and Russians use a mix of military and commercial drones. For the defenders, military drones include Polish drones like FlyEye and Warmate from the WB Group and the Norwegian Black Hornet. The Russians, on the other hand, use drones like Orlan and Zala Kub-BLA.

The second group includes small drones assembled from readily available parts or those from the Mavic family and larger ones like the Matrice family. These are used to destroy abandoned Russian equipment in no-man's land—the terrain between the positions of both armies—and to deliver medical aid to the wounded.

Additionally, both sides use drones with sufficient payload capacity to drop grenades or mortar shells on the opponent. Small drones are also used as "kamikaze" machines, known as "death mosquitoes." There have even been instances of drones being used for demining or planting mines.

Defense against drones - first, you need to detect them

Despite their delicate build, drones are formidable opponents. These small machines have a radar signature similar to birds, causing older anti-aircraft radar systems to often mistake them for background noise and not display them on the operator's screen.

Newer systems use algorithms that distinguish birds from drones based on flight characteristics, but the detection range remains a problem. A machine flying low over the ground may be detected only a few miles away, making it challenging to create a cheap and robust barrier along the entire frontline.

Infrared systems supported by laser rangefinders are also not ideal, as drones made of composites that poorly emit heat and are powered by electric motors are less visible on thermal images than missiles.

Theoretically, the simplest solution is to use electronic warfare systems that can detect the presence of enemy drones through frequency monitoring and determine their location. This is how the Russians bombarded drone launch and landing sites at the beginning of the war.

Defense against drones - jamming is not an ideal solution

These systems can interrupt real-time video transmission, take control of the drone, or disrupt GPS and satellite navigation, forcing automatic landing or crashing to the ground.

However, it's worth noting that opponents may adapt their drones to frequencies not covered by jamming systems. This creates a constant race between jammer system developers and drone manufacturers. Throughout the ongoing war, there have been periods when one side enjoyed impunity while the other faced restrictions on the use of commercial drones.

Currently, based on information from the Russians and the increased number of video materials showcasing the use of FPV-type drones, it seems the "pendulum" has swung back to Ukraine. However, this state won't last forever, as the Russians will eventually retune their jammers by analyzing the wreckage of drones.

These are often modified Chinese solutions, and as one Russian source points out, only a few systems produced on a small scale are effective. Many are improvised with the help of hobbyists.

The only solution in such conditions is autonomous drones, like the professional FlyEye drones. In the case of FPV drones, the essential approach would be to use solutions that enable the identification and attack of targets without involving a pilot.

Theoretically, this is possible since appropriate solutions already exist in modern anti-tank-guided missiles with a "fire and forget" feature. Such missiles, like the Brimstone, can independently detect and attack a target in a given area or use a predictive line of attack similar to the system found in NLAW missiles. In such a case, the jammers will be powerless, and the only solution would be physically eliminating the drone.

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