Ukraine turns suicide drones into flying mines against infantry

Ukrainian forces use guided mines as warheads for suicide drones, helping to increase damage when attacking enemy infantry.

Ukraine’s Shadow reconnaissance unit posted a video on March 12 of this force using a small unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) to attack a Russian soldier’s position on the front line.

In the video, the reconnaissance drone discovered Russian soldiers hiding next to a tree in the middle of an open field and relayed the coordinates so that the Ukrainian unit could deploy a suicide first-person view (FPV) drone to attack.

When detecting an enemy FPV drone approaching, Russian soldiers circled behind the tree to use it as cover. However, the Ukrainian drone did not rush toward the target but exploded in the air, creating countless pieces that fell to the ground.

Russian soldiers lay down to avoid it but were still hit by fragments from the drone’s warhead. This person then lay motionless, seemingly injured.

“This soldier was well trained and knew that he had to lie down or hide behind trees when attacked by an FPV drone. However, the above tactic did not work this time,” military expert David Hambling of Forbes said.

Hambling said the area that was hit by splinters was rectangular, suggesting that the warhead on the drone was likely shaped as a Claymore-guided mine instead of the usual round shape. Some recent videos on social networks show that other Ukrainian units also use FPV drones with similar operating mechanisms to attack Russian forces.

“The Ukrainian army is using FPV drones carrying airborne fragmentation warheads. They are capable of causing much greater damage than conventional RPG warheads when attacking soldiers in open areas. It can be said that they are not no different from a flying Claymore mine,” Forbes ‘ expert opined.

M18A1 Claymore is an anti-infantry mine, commonly used by the US military during the Cold War. Claymore has a curved rectangular shape, with the curved front facing the direction of damage.

Inside the C-4 explosive-filled mine, 700 metal balls will be released forward when detonated, forming a fan shape at a 60-degree angle with an effective range of about 50 meters. Each ball has a penetrating force nearly equal to a bullet.

Many countries have learned about Claymore’s design and developed similar mine models, including the Soviet Union’s MON-50 series.

According to Hambling, FPV drones carrying RPG warheads can effectively attack heavy assets such as tanks, armored vehicles or self-propelled guns, but it is not easy to attack infantry targets because they can actively avoid a target. 

“FPV drones use conventional bullets designed to explode upon impact. Therefore, to deal with infantry, it needs to hit the target or at least hit the ground right next to it,” said this expert. “Small and flexible targets are the real challenge for FPV drones.”

Meanwhile, the command-activated mechanism of Claymore-type directional mines will make it more difficult for infantry to avoid because the drone does not need to touch the target to explode. This mechanism also helps overcome the problem of interrupted communication with the drone in the final phase due to loss of visibility. The operator can detonate the projectile before losing the radio signal.

The fact that the damage effect is concentrated in a certain direction also helps increase the attack’s success rate.

“Shots that explode in all directions waste most of their explosive power. However, the entire damaging effect of ‘flying Claymore mines’ is directed towards the target, increasing the ability to defeat the enemy,” Hambling commented, adding that drones using this warhead are also suitable for attacking the enemy in trenches.

In the early stages, after appearing at the end of 2022, FPV drones are still quite scarce and are only used limitedly on the battlefield. However, both Russia and Ukraine currently own a large number of FPV drones and are actively increasing production of this type of weapon. Kyiv is expected to have about two million more drones this year, of which one million are self-produced, and the rest are provided by Western aid.

“Small-sized drones are said to have destroyed more tanks than any other weapon in the conflict. In the coming period, they could also become the biggest threat to infantry when equipped with warheads.” are directional mines,” Hambling said.