How does the Ukrainian military use commercial drones, what is the average life expectancy of a quadrocopter at the front, and can they be replaced in case of a critical shortage in the market?
In December 2022, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told reporters in an interview that the ministry does not purchase civilian UAVs because they are not suitable for flying in combat conditions. According to him, only a few creative fighters use Mavic devices for conducting "local struggle" and "precise" destruction of Russian forces. But we are sure - unprotected commercial drones like the DJI Mavic are playing a big role in combat, despite the skepticism of Defense Department officials.
If it weren’t for civilian quadrocopters, the russians would have been able to capture Bakhmut and fight already near the Dnieper, says Vitaly Deineka, founder of the Turn Back Alive foundation.
Since the beginning of a full-scale war in Ukraine, civilian UAVs have been very successful in replacing expensive and scarce military drones. They became the "eyes" of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, allowing the military to conduct reconnaissance at a distance of up to 10 km, observing the movement of Russian troops. In addition, drones are used for more accurate targeting of artillery.
The Matrice 300 and Matrice 30 drones, made by Chinese company DJI, are ideal for spotting fire on the front line, as they are equipped with cameras with a 200x zoom.
The capabilities of non-military drones are limited, but Ukrainian craftsmen significantly expand them by introducing their own modifications. One of the most popular is the drop system, which turns an ordinary quadcopter into a strike drone. Both military and civil engineers themselves are engaged in the creation of such devices. In addition, universal drop systems are on the market, they can be easily purchased separately and installed on the drone.
A lot of controversies have arisen around the use of such drones, some pointing to a high risk of loss of drones, danger to the operator and low efficiency, since the conditional DJI Mavic 3 can only lift light grenades that are unable to cause great damage. However, other experts assure that in capable hands, drones work very effectively and can even destroy the combat vehicles of the occupiers.
Most often, light 30-mm ammunition for VOG-17 grenade launchers (350 g) is attached to drones, which explode on impact. The explosive filling may vary depending on the types of grenades, but due to their low power they are most often used to destroy manpower or damage light equipment.
Another disadvantage of civilian drones, Alexey Reznikov, called their fragility. According to the minister, such quadcopters operate for no more than two days before they are shot down by russian troops. But experts assure that the duration of the "life" of the UAV at the front depends heavily on the experience of the operators, as well as the enemies they confront. Even to control civilian drones, the military needs special skills and understanding of the specifics of combat.
Russia is gradually improving its electronic warfare system to shoot down as many Ukrainian drones as possible along the front lines. Most often, russians use "jamming", creating interference and blocking satellite navigation, in which case it is more difficult or even impossible for the operator to control the device. GPS spoofing is also often used, when a false GPS signal is transmitted to the drone, changing its geolocation and forcing it to land.
In any case, DJI Mavic 3, DJI Matrice 30T, DJI Matrice 300 and Autel perform their tasks best on the front. A lot of work is also done by "bombers" - large drones that drop heavy ammunition on the enemy.
Summing up, we consider civilian drones to be very useful at the front. We continue to support the defenders of Ukraine and supply them with drones.