Vladimir Putin should be very worried about Ukraine’s new kamikaze drone

The war in Ukraine is no stranger to drones, but last week’s kamikaze drone attack on the Russian city of Rostov marked the beginning of a whole chapter in drone warfare. A small, ailing Ukrainian drone with a tiny warhead flew over the heavily defended front line on June 22, crushing an oil refinery in Russia and causing a major fire. Given how cheaply a drone can be manufactured and how successfully it bypasses Russian air defenses, Russian officials may soon have to worry about defending oil facilities, supply depots, and military installations deep within Russian territory.

Long-range kamikaze drones are a new threat to Russia. Most observers of the conflict in Ukraine are familiar with the US-supplied Switchblade drones, but these have a relatively short range and require operators to aim them at a target. Kamikaze drones like the one used in the Rostov attack can travel hundreds of miles without needing an operator and are small enough to slip past much of Russia’s air defenses, which are designed to track down and engage fighter jets and missiles. Using GPS and inertial guidance systems, a Ukrainian operator would only have to assign the drone a point on the map before sending it on its way.

For Russia, the biggest concern is that Ukraine can produce them cheaply and easily. Press reports claim that the drone used in the Rostov attack was made by Ukraine or was a model available online for less than $10,000. Airframes, engines and guidance systems could all be bought commercially and assembled without too much technical know-how. Payloads are likely small and the drone can’t readjust if the coordinates are wrong, but it costs a fraction of its American and Turkish-made counterparts and can cause millions of dollars in damage if it hits a fuel tank or catches fire turns into a docked naval ship. Depending on the final unit cost, Ukrainian drones could potentially be cheaper than the missiles that Russia would use to shoot them down.

For Ukraine, long-range kamikaze drones fill a capacity gap. Ukraine will have to use one of their few remaining ballistic missiles or risk a million-dollar drone like a TB2 Bayraktar to match the same level of damage from the front lines. President Joe Biden is notoriously reluctant to supply Ukraine with missiles capable of hitting Russian territory for fear of an escalation. The USA Has offered MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones, but Ukrainian officials are reportedly nervous about taking them up because such a high-profile weapon could be shot down quickly if deployed near the front lines.

Ukraine would not be the first player to use kamikaze drones to impose a stronger power. In Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis have been successfully using similar types of drones for years. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates deploy more sophisticated air defense systems than Russia to cover a smaller front, but that doesn’t seem to be enough. In 2019, a single kamikaze drone attack on Saudi oil processing facilities halved Saudi oil production overnight. The Houthis even attempted to ram a Patriot radar once, which would have blinded the entire battery. The attacks are so worrying the Gulf states that limiting the use of drones is reportedly a major bone of contention in ongoing peace talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis.

The prospect of a forced drone war like the one in Yemen is galling for Moscow. Should Ukraine start mass-buying or mass-producing kamikaze drones, Kyiv would be able to launch dozens of attacks on military targets in Russian-held Ukraine – and Russia itself – without outside help. With modern commercial satellite technology, any Russian port, power plant or supply depot in a huge radius becomes a potential target if Ukraine decides to escalate. Faced with this threat, Putin would have to decide whether to keep his front-line air defenses in support of military operations or move some air defense systems back to protect sensitive locations throughout western Russia. Even if they do the latter, the drone is so cheap to manufacture that Kyiv could send swarms of it to overwhelm Russia’s air defenses.

At the moment, kamikaze drones are a concern for Russia and Saudi Arabia, but US and European politicians should also take note. Given the ease with which they can be crafted and the magnitude of the damage they have inflicted, it may not be long before any irregular conflict results in the weaker side building a rudimentary drone fleet of their own.

For some, the future of drone warfare isn’t an elaborate array of networked drones receiving instructions from artificial intelligence, but a series of cheap Hail Marys that only have to get lucky once.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/vladimir-putin-should-be-very-worried-about-ukraines-new-kamikaze-drone?source=articles&via=rss Vladimir Putin should be very worried about Ukraine’s new kamikaze drone

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