Ukraine’s drone war pushes other armies to adapt

The unprecedented role played in Ukraine by drones, which have become decisive actors in the conflict, shows, according to experts, the need to adapt modern armies to use them as well as to protect themselves from them.

There have been “other conflicts where drones have been used a lot”, such as in Syria against the Islamic State group or in Libya, Samuel Bendett, of the American think tank CNA, told AFP. But “the number of drones and the scale of their use in Ukraine outweighs any other conflict,” he adds.

This specialist in autonomous weapons underlines “the absolutely unprecedented use of commercial drones” for surveillance and reconnaissance, but also combat, operations in Ukraine.

For him, the war has shown that small drones “are absolutely essential to all units, at all levels”, from the platoon to the company. “Because they are expendable, not very durable, the forces must be equipped with them in very large quantities,” he adds.

– “Available and cheap” –

A drone on approach during an attack on kyiv on October 17, 2022 (AFP/Archives – Yasuyoshi CHIBA)

Drones have played a key role in Ukraine since the start of the conflict. Ukrainian forces struck Russian soldiers with Turkish-made Bayraktar drones when they unsuccessfully attempted to take control of kyiv.

Both armies made extensive use of small drones to locate and track enemy movements as well as to direct artillery fire. Both countries also use kamikaze drones, autonomous planes loaded with explosives that detonate on impact.

For Lauren Kahn, of the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank, the war in Ukraine is happening when “a lot of these technologies are maturing” and are “available and cheap”, which has allowed more experiments.

“They are so affordable that they are used as less valuable weapons,” adds Kahn, a specialist in the impact of emerging technologies on international security.

The problem for a country under attack is when it costs more to shoot down a drone than to use it, she points out, citing the example of Russian strikes against Ukrainian electricity infrastructure using drones Iranians.

“The way to counter more drones and in a more effective way, this is in my opinion the next phase of development”, adds the expert, noting that it will be necessary to find a “more economical” solution which corresponds to the “very price bottom of offensive technology”.

– Electronic defense –

A Ukrainian soldier poses with a drone near Bakhmout on December 30, 2022 (AFP/Archives - Sameer Al-DOUMY)
A Ukrainian soldier poses with a drone near Bakhmout on December 30, 2022 (AFP/Archives – Sameer Al-DOUMY)

The war in Ukraine made it possible to test anti-drone technologies, in particular for the United States, which provided kyiv with a whole range of options, from submachine guns to anti-aircraft systems.

And the electronic defense plays an important role for the two belligerents, adds Samuel Bendett.

“Both the Russians and the Ukrainians are now saying publicly that there are areas of the front where their military drones cannot operate and where their commercial drones can be jammed and neutralized,” he said.

While kamikaze drones have attracted more attention, the impact of drone surveillance capabilities has proven to be greater: it has become more difficult to conceal troops from enemy eyes.

The conflict has shown that it is “absolutely essential to have systems, technologies and training” in anti-drone defense, says the CNA expert.

“The military must adapt,” he concludes. “They must adapt to the fact that any belligerent today, and any force that the United States and its allies may face in the future, can be equipped with drones of the type we see in Ukraine. .

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