By Peter McLaren-Kennedy • 11 May 2022 • 7:46
Small drones giving Ukraine the edge in the war
Source: DJI Mavic
Operable by anyone, these small drones are being used not only to record the war but also to provide valuable intelligence to Ukraine’s armed forces, as they work to repel the invading Russian troops.
Valerii Iakovenko, the founder of Ukrainian drone company DroneUA, told Wired: “Drones changed the way the war was supposed to be.
“It is all about intelligence, collecting and transferring data about enemy troops’ movements or positioning, correcting artillery fire. It is about counter-saboteurs’ actions, and it is of course search-and-rescue operations.”
According to Iakovenko, the Ukrainian Army has been making full use of the Starlink satellite system provided by Elon Musk, estimating that they are operating upwards of 6,000 drones for reconnaissance.
He adds: “In 2014, drones became the centre of attention of intelligence units, but their scale cannot be compared to what we see today.”
The US announced on Saturday, May 7 that it is to supply Ukraine with more military grade drones, but Iakovenko says use of smaller commercial drones in such high numbers is making the difference, giving Ukraine the edge in the war.
Nearly 350 incidents of commercial drone usage in Ukraine have been tracked and logged by civilian drone researcher Faine Greenwood, footage from these having been on Twitter, Telegram, YouTube, and other social media.
He says that a lot of the footage has been taken by the military, confirming that the Ukrainian Army is indeed making use of the technology to inspect buildings, to collect data and to report war crimes.
“This is one of the first cases we have had where drones have collected so much really applicable information for war crimes investigations against civilians.”
Ulrike Franke, a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, has studied the use of drones in war. She says: “You get cheap airborne surveillance, or even strike capabilities, by using these.
“You have individuals or small militia groups that all of a sudden have their own airborne surveillance capability, that’s something you wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. There certainly have been tactical advances and tactical victories because of that.
Greenwood added his concerns and worries that footage of war atrocities may not stand up in court, but more importantly: “Flying a simple commercial drone in conflict puts the operators in danger as well.
“The big problem with consumer drones and conflict zones, which humanitarian aid workers are very conscious of, is that you can’t tell them apart; they look exactly the same.”
He explained that a consumer drone being flown by a civilian appears no different from the same drone being flown by a soldier. That raises questions of what will happen under humanitarian laws if people flying drones are targeted.
“What happens if an aid worker is flying a drone and people assume it’s a drone, it must be being flown by a combatant, and therefore this is a valid target, and I’m going to kill it?”
Both Ukraine and Russia are known to be using commercially available small drones, but with locals using the technology to share intelligence and to record the war is, according to experts, giving Ukraine the edge in the war.
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Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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