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A Look Into the Drones Used in the Russia-Ukraine War

An overview of the drones used in the Russia-Ukraine war
An overview of the drones used in the Russia-Ukraine war

Image source: Getty Images

Russia and Ukraine used a wide range of weapons and technologies, but drones were a key weapon for both sides.

During the invasion, thousands of drones were used to locate enemy positions, launch missiles and direct artillery fire.


As both sides use different technologies, Ukraine has deployed a military drone: the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2.

The drone is the size of a small airplane with cameras attached and can be armed with laser-guided bombs.

Dr. Jack Watling of the think tank RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) says Ukraine started with a fleet of “less than 50” Bayraktar.


According to Dr. Watling mainly used the Orlan-10, a smaller and simpler drone.

“Russia started the war with some thousands of them, and may have a few hundred left,” he said.

Orlan drones have cameras and are capable of carrying small bombs.

How effective are the drones?

The two drones were instrumental in finding enemy targets and directing artillery fire.

“Russian forces can bring their guns to bear on the enemy within only three to five minutes of an Orlan-10 drone spotting a target,” noted Dr. Watling.

Without them, however, an attack could take 20-30 minutes.

Doctor Marina Miron, researcher in defense studies at King’s College London, pointed out that Ukraine has been able to expand its limited armed forces thanks to drones.

“If you wanted to seek out enemy positions in the past, you would have had to send out special forces units to do it,” she says. 

“You might lose some troops. Now, all you’re risking is a drone.”

When war broke out, the usefulness of Bayraktar drones was widely praised in Ukraine.

“They were shown attacking targets, such as ammunition dumps, and played a part in the sinking of the [warship] Moskva,” Dr. Miron said.

Although widely hailed, many Bayraktars have been destroyed by enemy defenses over the months.

“They are largely, relatively slow-moving, and fly at only medium altitude,” Dr. Watling pointed out.

“That makes them easy to shoot down.”

Non-military drones

Due to the expensive price, it is difficult to replace drones. For example, a Bayraktar TB2 costs $ 2 million.

As a result, Ukraine uses smaller commercial models like the DJI Mavic 3, which costs just over $ 2,000.

A Ukrainian drone manufacturer has speculated that the country is deploying 6,000 drones, but there is no confirmation.

Commercial drones can be equipped with small bombs, but are mainly used to spot enemy troops and launch direct attacks. Commercial drones are not as powerful as military drones with only 30km of flight distance and 46 minutes of travel.

“Ukraine doesn’t have as much ammunition as Russia,” says Dr. Miron.

“Having ‘eyes in the sky’ to spot targets and direct artillery fire means they can make better use of what they have.”

Drones suppliers

According to the White House, the Russians are getting their Sahid military drones from Iran.

Houthi rebels in Yemen are using the same drones to attack targets in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile, Ukraine received a shipment of 700 Switchblade “Kamikaze” military drones from the United States.

Drones are packed with explosives and hover in the air until they find a target.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX also provides Ukraine with the Starlink satellite communications system, which provides secure connectivity between commercial drones and operators. DJI has stopped supplying drones to Russia and Ukraine.

Ukraine’s drone payment

In addition to US donations, Ukraine has launched a crowdfunding appeal for the purchase of 200 military drones.

“As well as large drones like [Bayraktar] TB2, they are looking for small, fixed-wing reconnaissance drones,” said Dr. Watling.

Ukrainian winners of the Eurovision Song Contest Kalush Orchestra sold their trophy for $900,000.

They donated the money to the drone call for the purchase of three Ukrainian PD-2 drones.


Ukraine conflict: how are drones being used?

Opinions expressed by Portland News contributors are their own.