It has long been speculated that drone-centered warfare will replace traditional combat. Now, Russia and Ukraine are engaged in what is being called “the first full-scale drone war,” according to the Washington Post.
While the fighting may have started traditionally, with Russian tanks crossing the border into Ukraine, many of the critical advances made by both countries have come from drones conducting reconnaissance missions and launching deadly attacks.
Early in the war, Ukraine’s success with using Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones stifled Russia’s military offensive and had countries from all over the world calling Turkey to put in orders for the drone. At $2 million a piece, the drones are significantly cheaper than alternatives from the U.S. and Israel.
As a result of their successful use in Ukraine, dozens of countries have been added to a years-long waitlist in the hopes of acquiring the drones, according to ABC News Australia.
Media reports of the drone’s effectiveness have since dropped off, with the focus now on Russia’s supply of Iranian drones. Russia has deployed Iranian-made Shahed-136 “kamikaze” drones, which are slower and less sophisticated than the TB2 but have still reportedly been utilized to destroy Ukrainian power plants.
Russia and Iran appear to have strengthened their military ties, with both countries considering starting a drone assembly line in Russia for its Ukraine conflict, according to the Associated Press.
Ukraine said it shot down 10 unmanned aerial systems on December 10, indicating that Moscow had replenished its supply of drones, as Iran and Russia have moved to what the U.S. has called a full defense partnership, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Russia purchased hundreds of Iran’s Shahed-136 and Mohajer-6 drones over the summer. The Shahed-136 drone, renamed Geran 2 by the Russians, is one of the cheapest drones available, at around 20,000 euros.
Ukrainian air defenses quickly shot down the entire first batch over several months, but the reappearance of the unmanned aerial systems indicates that Russia has resupplied its stock.
Several reports have linked the Iranian-made drones like the Mohajer-6 with some parts produced by Western manufacturers, including Texas Instruments. Texas Instruments affirms that it does not sell parts to Russia, Belarus, or Iran, and the parts may have ended up in the wrong hands through sales to front companies.
Ukraine has pushed to counter the increasing barrage of drone strikes from Russia by acquiring older General Atomics Reaper drones.
“Both the Reaper and the Army version — the Gray Eagle — would give Ukraine a critical new capability as the country’s forces press on occupied Crimea and the well-defended Russian frontlines in Donbas,” Politico reported.
However, U.S. officials have been hesitant because some will likely be shot down and could transfer sensitive technology to Russia, prompting a months-long stalemate, according to Politico.