In the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, heightened by incidents such as the bombing of the Nord Stream pipeline and the attack on the Crimean Bridge, it is important to examine the changing military strategies and the use of drones in this ongoing conflict.
There has been a change in Russia’s military strategy towards Ukraine, with a focus on attacking critical infrastructure such as power plants, fuel supplies, and transportation networks. In addition, Russia has been using new drone tactics that have drawn global military experts’ interest. This article will delve into these emerging trends, strategies, and the difficulties they pose.
The Rise of New Drone Tactics
The focus of the Russia-Ukraine war is not on high-end surveillance or combat drones, but rather on cost-effective and small drones. These drones are leading a new trend in military tactics. Both sides are using innovative strategies in the deployment of drones, with a specific emphasis on drone swarm tactics, which require a more in-depth analysis.
Drones as a Key Source of Battlefield Intelligence
In this war, drones play a vital role in providing battlefield intelligence. Russia and Ukraine heavily utilize different types of drones, particularly at the front lines, to gather intelligence. These drones offer real-time updates on the enemy’s location, quantity, and movements of their armor and essential targets. As a result, it allows for continuous situational awareness, tracking of enemy positions, and even monitoring individual soldiers’ status.
Due to limitations in Russia’s military intelligence collection capabilities and electromagnetic interference methods, drones such as “Bee-1K,” “Pomegranate,” “Sea Eagle-10,” and “Outpost” have played pivotal roles in Ukraine’s operations, including the successful sinking of the Moskva ship.
Civilian-Level Drones on the Battlefield
It is noteworthy that low-cost, commercially available drones are being utilized extensively in military operations. In situations such as urban warfare and trench warfare, these drones are being used by soldiers as their primary equipment. These drones are easy to handle and are well-liked by the troops. The soldiers use them to swiftly obtain information about the location and state of the enemy forces. Some soldiers even modify these drones to transport grenades and other explosives for destroying targets.
Drone Swarm Tactics Deliver Impact
It should be noted that drone swarm tactics have been successful. In the past, the Russian military used suicide drones, also known as loitering bombs, during large-scale attacks on Ukraine’s rear targets. Drones such as Shahed-136 and Mohajer-6 caused significant damage to Ukraine’s power facilities, resulting in a 30% to 40% reduction in power infrastructure and targeting over 50% of power generation facilities. Some drones even flew over Kyiv. Ukraine attempted to counter with anti-aircraft machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, and missiles, but they were unable to effectively intercept the drones.
The Shahd-136 Drone: Affordable yet Lethal
The Shahd-136 drone is Russia’s preferred weapon for carrying out large-scale drone swarm attacks. Despite being cost-effective, this drone is highly capable. While it may not be able to change the outcome of the entire conflict on its own, its swarm tactics have introduced an element of unpredictability and urgency. This has disrupted the societal order and military stability in Ukraine, causing significant psychological stress.
The Shahd-136 drone, developed by Iran, is also referred to as a loitering bomb. It utilizes a satellite guidance system, boasts dimensions of 3.5 meters in length and a 2.5-meter wingspan, and weighs over 200 kilograms. With a maximum flight speed of 186 kilometers per hour and a range of 2,500 kilometers, it can carry a 50-kilogram warhead. Depending on the mission, it can be equipped with anti-personnel, fortification attack, or anti-radiation warheads, making it versatile in various combat scenarios.
Swarm Tactics: The Shahd-136’s Strength
One of the Shahd-136’s most distinctive features is its capacity to engage targets using swarm tactics. Multiple drones can be launched from a single truck and coordinated to conduct strike or reconnaissance missions in formation or programmed modes. While the Shahed-136 UAVs themselves lack data links and are considered low-end loitering bombs, they typically attack in groups of five, utilizing low-altitude and swarm tactics that render interception extremely challenging. Moreover, the Shahd-136’s low manufacturing cost, approximately $20,000 per unit, makes it highly suitable for mass production and deployment in swarm operations.
Loitering Bombs: The Future of Drones
The combination of drone technology and attack munitions has resulted in loitering munitions, a new type of drone system designed to hover and move around in target areas. These drones are capable of carrying out real-time strike missions once they identify a target. They are especially useful in targeting specific individuals or strategically important areas.
These loitering munitions can be deployed independently or as part of other weapon systems, including aircraft, artillery, naval guns, and even by individual soldiers. They often do not require preset target coordinates but instead cruise over the target area post-launch. Upon detecting a target, they can autonomously or remotely conduct strike missions.
Varied Types of loitering ammunition
Over the years, several countries have developed diverse categories. Others are smaller and primarily used to target point-specific objectives such as light armor and personnel, exemplified by the American “Switchblade” and the Russian “Lancet”. These two variants have proven highly effective in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, destroying a significant quantity of enemy light equipment.
The Challenge of Drone Threats
As exemplified by the Shahed-136 UAV, despite being a relatively low-tech, small, slow UAV, it poses a significant challenge to enemy air defense capabilities in real-world combat scenarios. High-cost anti-aircraft missiles prove ineffective against such threats, while low-cost anti-aircraft artillery and machine guns have limited impact.
Addressing the Challenge of Drone Threats
Effectively countering the threat posed by swarms of inexpensive drones has become a paramount challenge in modern military strategies. In response to this challenge, developing and deploying specialized air defense equipment is imperative. Several primary types of air defense equipment are currently in use.
The first category encompasses low-cost air defense systems. These systems leverage the average flight performance of drones to employ low-cost air.