How are cheap Russian UAVs dangerous to Ukraine?

Low-cost Russian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are becoming a serious threat to Ukraine’s army and military equipment as Moscow is increasingly using these weapons for ambushes.

As Russia’s special military operation enters its 18th month, Ukrainian forces say Moscow is increasing its use of low-cost UAVs capable of destroying equipment many times more valuable and not easy to counter.

In particular, the Lancet UAV has been a growing threat to Ukraine’s frontline in recent months, according to Ukrainian soldiers.

Videos posted by social media channels last month show Lancet drones damaging or destroying valuable Western-funded Ukrainian equipment, such as Leopard 2 tanks and howitzers Caesar practice.

Many videos previously posted by the Russian military also show that the Lancet UAV destroys the radar of the IRIS-T medium-range air defense system and many weapons transferred by the West to Kiev.

Ukrainian soldiers from four different artillery teams call the Lancet UAV one of the main threats they face on the battlefield as the Russian military makes full use of this weapon to destroy expensive targets. enemy.

Some soldiers say the frequency of its use has increased in recent months. “Back then, in the spring, Russia didn’t use the Lancet as often as it does now,” said 35-year-old artillery gunner Bohdan, who went by the code name Doc, who was fighting near Avdiivka on the front lines in the Donetsk region.

Expert Samuel Bendett, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said that the Russian Defense Ministry has encouraged increased production of Lancets, seeing it as a cheap way to destroy modern Western weapons. used by Ukraine in a large-scale counter-offensive operation.

He said that according to public Russian sources, a Lancet UAV costs about 3 million rubles (about $ 35,000), compared to a Leopard 2 tank worth several million dollars.

Suicide UAVs are designed to carry explosives to attack targets behind enemy lines. Unlike traditional large UAVs that can launch missiles, drop bombs and then return to base after ambushing, suicide UAVs only deliver a single attack.

In addition, it is small in size, light in weight and easy to deploy. They are difficult to detect by radar and sensor systems and pose a huge challenge to Ukrainian air defense systems. 


Ukraine has also taken advantage of and developed the powerful capability of suicide drones as a cost-effective way to strike Russian targets because the weapon is designed to deliver explosives to strike targets. behind enemy lines. Unlike traditional large UAVs that can launch missiles, drop bombs and then return to base after ambushing, suicide UAVs only deliver a single attack.

Mr. Bendett said that Russia seems to be applying a tactic that has been deployed by Ukraine before, which is to lure important targets into an open area and then destroy them with suicide drones.

Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s Defense Minister, admits that the popularity of the Lancet drone is causing difficulties for the counter-offensive. “Every day we shoot down 1-2 planes, but the interception rate is not 100%,” he said.

Mr. Sak also said, UAV Lancet carries a relatively small amount of explosives, from 1.5-5kg. However, while less powerful than artillery shells or most missiles, this weapon seems to be able to deal significant damage. “Though they are much weaker than conventional artillery shells or missiles, they can still do significant damage,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bendett also added that the latest Lancet model, the Lancet 3, can fly up to 50km, making it capable of hitting targets deep behind Ukraine’s defenses better than any suicide UAV. other Russians besides the Shahed.

Its ability to hover in the air to scout and then pursue its target makes it a major threat to high-value assets such as tanks, self-propelled howitzers and multiple rocket launchers. 

One of the Ukrainian vehicles most at risk is the BM-21 Grad, a large Soviet-era truck-mounted launcher that can fire a salvo of 40 rockets over a wide area. Grad’s firepower and high mobility made it a priority target for the Lancet.

UAVs like the Lancet, which fly low and slow, tend to confuse traditional air defense systems that are built to intercept fast-moving targets with higher temperatures.

Voron, a member of the Grad battery that fought near Avdiivka, nearly lost his life in a Lancet drone strike in early May.

After firing toward Russian forces, Voron’s Grad complex was immediately attacked in retaliation with S-300 missiles. The shell fell about 150m from the launch vehicle and did not pose a danger, but a Lancet UAV quickly appeared in the sky and chased the Grad complex. “We ran away. The drone went down and exploded about 50 meters from our car. Luckily it didn’t hit the launch vehicle,” Voron said.

Having mesh or metal cages can help limit damage, Sak said, but the best defense is automatic anti-UAV guns equipped with radar, as well as electronic warfare systems. Mr. Sak said that Ukraine needs countries to support more of these systems.

Without such systems, Ukrainian soldiers are often forced to try to shoot down the Lancet with small arms. “It flies at 100km/h so shooting it down with small arms is not an easy challenge,” Sak added.

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