Ukrainian military unveils its new 'SkyKnight' bomber drone

Ukraine's Ministry of Defense has posted some interesting information on a new bomber drone that appears to have been developed domestically.
Christopher McFadden
Image of the new drone post on Telegram and Twitter.
Image of the new drone post on Telegram and Twitter.

Ukraine has announced that it has developed its bomber drone via its Ministry of Defense Telegram account. Called the "SkyKnight," the new drone is small in size but certainly packs a punch, by all accounts. Announced on August 19, 2023, the latest unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is ostensibly similar to commercial drones but has been modified for war.

Ukrainian bomber drone

The limited information on the Telegram post shows that the new UAV is compact and has four limbs (each with two rotors). It also has what appears to be a sensor package to the front and a downward-facing camera. The drone also has a battery pack strapped to the back and carries its payload munition under its belly. The payload is believed to weigh around 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg), which would be a very large weight for such a small drone. To put that into perspective, the bomb alone is around three to five times the weight of a typical hand grenade. That's not a trivial load for a small drone to handle.

“This can be used against stationary and moving targets – anything from tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, and other systems, to infantry units on the move and in trenches, and against any target that is identified as a Russian military one,” says Samuel Bendett, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis and adjunct senior fellow at the Center for New American Security. “This payload can be effective and devastating against infantry units, as evidenced [by] multiple videos of similar attacks by quadcopters," he added.

The intended purpose of the new drone is not explicitly stated, but presumably, it would be used for trench bombing like many other explosive-armed drones of the conflict. In fact, before the invasion of Ukraine, drones were used for this very purpose in the Donbas region since around 2018. This tactic continued into the larger war starting in February 2022, with small drones joining medium and larger drones in the arsenals of both nations. While drones have been used extensively in previous wars, the scale of their use in the war in Ukraine is unprecedented.

“Never before have so many drones been used in a military confrontation,” writes Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Many, possibly the majority, of the drones used by Ukrainian forces were originally designed for commercial purposes or for hobbyists," she added.

The "SkyKnight" is a domestically produced drone explicitly built for the Ukrainian military. It shares parts with hobbyist drones and is designed for ease of assembly rather than aesthetics. It is crucial to manufacture drones domestically because DJI banned the sale of its drones to Ukraine and Russia.

“The Chinese manufacturer DJI produces most of these systems,” writes Franke. “It officially suspended operations in Ukraine and Russia a few weeks into the war, but its drones, most notably the Mavic type, remain among the most used and sought-after systems," she said.

Made for war

The "SkyKnight drone," developed by the Ministry of Defense, can fly automatically towards a target the operator chooses, even if communication is lost. “Ukraine is investing a lot of resources in domestic combat drone production to meet the challenge from the Russian military that is increasingly fielding more quadcopter and FPV-type drones,” says Bendett. “This SkyKnight needs to be manufactured in sufficient quantities to start making a difference on the battlefield," she added.

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