Mass drone attacks in Ukraine foreshadow the ‘future of warfare’ | Russia-Ukraine war News

Just before 7am Monday, people in Kyiv heard a howling sound overhead before identifying where it was coming from – a group of “kamikaze” drones flying into the city.

Drones have been widely used on both sides of the Ukraine conflict, but these were the first Russian attacks to use swarms of planes.

Videos and pictures started Drones are circulating on social media They flew directly over city infrastructure like power plants, apartment buildings, and railroads as civilians and soldiers tried to shoot them down with guns.

About 28 were launched in Kyiv on Monday morning. At least four civilians were killed after one of the planes hit a residential building.

Damaged building.
Firefighters work on a building in Kyiv after a drone attack [Roman Hrytsyna/Reuters]

Excitement ran high as locals waited to see where the drones would fly. There was the faint hum of planes, gunshots, and screams as each of the still-flying drones found its target and swooped toward it.

The planes are called kamikaze drones because they attack once and don’t come back. Ukrainian officials say those primarily deployed in their airspace are the Iranian-made Shahed-136. About 2,400 were apparently bought by Russia in August, and their first reported use in Ukraine was a month ago.

They are far from cutting-edge technology. The smallest costs just $20,000, while a traditional drone typically costs at least 10 times that number.

They also carry 35 to 40 kg (80 to 90 pounds) of explosives, significantly smaller than most drones. But their value is in their numbers. They appear in large flocks and fly low enough to evade anti-radar systems.

“They’re relatively small and single-use,” said Katherine Lawlor, research associate at the Institute for the Study of War. “They fly into something and then explode.”

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“It’s important to note that these are not the type of drones that you see in other conflicts, such as US Predators, which are much more expensive and sophisticated,” she said. “These drones are effectively missiles – they loiter in place, searching for their target.”

Their low price means the drones can be deployed in large numbers, and they hover before striking, having a psychological effect on civilians watching and waiting for them to strike.


Ukrainian officials estimated they have shot down dozens in the past week and nearly 100 since they were first deployed. But even when shot down, they explode in mid-air and can spray potentially deadly debris. Those that hit their target detonate on impact.

The emergence of drone swarms in Ukraine is part of a shift in the nature of Russia’s offensive, which some speculate suggests Moscow may be running low on long-range missiles.

Russia has recently intensified its airstrikes on densely populated urban areas such as the capital Kyiv.

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Analysts say this appears to be in retaliation for recent Ukrainian attacks, such as the bombing of a bridge linking Russia to Russian-held Crimea, as well as an attempt to demoralize Ukrainian residents and militants.

But this strategy may also signal a broader trend globally.

“These drones allow Russia to attack Ukrainians far from the front lines, far from the primary combat area,” said Ulrike Franke, senior policy fellow at the European Council for Foreign Relations, who leads its Technology and European Power Initiative.

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“But it’s not just a tactic to target civilians and infrastructure. It’s also about exhausting Ukraine’s air defenses,” she said. “Each drone shot down is another shot from Ukraine’s defense systems – whether human or weapon – that cannot be used against anything else.”

suicide drones

Like many trends in modern warfare, these techniques appear to have been tested during the decades-long war in Syria, where both took place Russia and Iran have reportedly used suicide drones.

Unlikely countries are also becoming international drone heavyweights, like Turkey, which has recently sold drones to countries like Somalia, Nigeria and Albania that are locked out of traditional military marketplaces.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces themselves have deployed Turkish-made Bayraktars along with US-supplied Switchblade drones.

With many countries unable to buy the expensive drones favored by the US and other Western powers, these types of smaller, cheaper drones are likely to become more widespread.

According to reports, members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been deployed to a military base in Crimea to help Russian forces train in its use.

“There has been a lot of debate among experts about whether drones will be used in more advanced battles, such as a potential US-China conflict,” said Zachary Kallenborn, a policy fellow at the Schar School of Policy and Government, who researches unconventional weapons and technologies. “These examples [in Ukraine] are evidence that drones are also being used extensively by more advanced military powers.”

“We see the military value in deploying large numbers of mass drones,” he said, “so a logical answer would be, ‘Well, how do we do this more effectively? How can we integrate this with other communications, make it more dynamic and precise?’ Technology is certainly going in a direction where this is the future of war.”

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There are signs that the Ukrainian military and civilian population are already adapting to the new challenge posed by these masses of drones.

As Ukrainian forces await shipments of missiles and other air defense systems, a Ukrainian start-up has partnered with the Ukrainian military to develop a smartphone app called ePPO Observer that will allow civilians to provide targeting data to Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainians can report sightings of planes and missiles through the app.

“Feel free to go to the ePPO Observer application, select the category you want, then point your smartphone in the direction of what you saw or heard and press the big red button,” reads a press release.

Reports indicate that Ukraine will face power outages and power rationing after these attacks destroyed critical power infrastructure. Iran has already agreed to supply more drones and missiles to Russia, despite condemnation from other countries and Ukrainian politicians.

With fighting still raging in other parts of Ukraine, it’s unclear whether sheer numbers alone can turn the conflict in Russia’s favor, particularly on the more distant battlefields.

“The deployment of these swarms of drones is intended to have a psychological impact on both Ukrainian civilians and decision-makers on the ground,” Lawlor said. “But not much will change at the front.”


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