Russia and Ukraine to use suicide drones in armed conflict

This is only the second time, suicide drones are being used in a conflict.
Ameya Paleja
Kalashnikov KYBgorodenkoff/iStock

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is witnessing the use of 'suicide drones', a new addition to warfare and a threat to life for ground troops, Popular Mechanics reported recently.

For many years, drones have remained the eyes of the skies and helped militaries perform reconnaissance and surveillance missions. More recently, drones such as the MQ Reaper of the U.S. Air Force have been equipped to identify and strike their targets from a distance. But as the technology to build drones becomes more scalable and inexpensive, the drones are now being equipped with explosives that make the aircraft a weapon on impact. 

Russian suicide drones

Russian troops have been using low-flying and small-bladed wing-body drones to attack targets in Ukraine. These drones belong to the family of Kalashnikov Kyb, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that were introduced only as recently as 2019. 

The UAV is four feet wide, and under a foot long with a flight duration of under 30 minutes. These drones are flown only in one direction with no plans of recovering them and do not even feature a landing gear. They are flown when the target is known to be well within range with the single purpose of inflicting damage once it is identified. 

Interestingly, the Kyb does not have a sensor package at all, Popular Mechanics reports. It is either programmed before taking flight or during flight to reach a set of coordinates, following which it simply triggers its 6.6-pound explosive payload. 

Ukrainian troops have often been seen scanning the skies for such drones that are flown only with the intention to destroy their targets and have also been reported to have captured two of such drones as conclusive evidence of the usage of these drones. 

The Ukrainian reply

While we have seen evidence of Ukrainian artillery attacks on Russian convoys, Ukrainian drones have largely been involved in surveillance missions. That is set to change after the U.S. government has agreed to supply the 100 Switchblade drones, as part of a military package, less than two weeks ago. 

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Unlike the Russian Kyb, Switchblade can be launched from a tube and is also equipped with an onboard sensor. An operator can follow the trajectory of the drone with the electro-optical and infrared cameras and precisely identify and hit a target.

Ukraine is likely to deploy these drones to hit Russian supply lines, Popular Mechanics said in its report, while also wondering if the next version of Switchblade with a longer range could also be supplied to Ukraine at short notice. Prior to this, suicide drones were only used in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020. 

The next step up from here would be the deployment of drone swarms, which until before the invasion was considered the future of warfare. 

Are we already there?  

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