The same sort of action is playing out in miniature in a struggle to gain control of low-level drone airspace

Saturday, April 20th, 2024

David Hambling notes that drone tactics in Ukraine are evolving:

With so many drones from both sides at the front it is inevitable that encounters will occur; since 2022 there have been occasional ‘dogfights’ with operators using their unarmed machines to knock opponents out of the sky. Now, however, we are seeing a different pattern. Rather than random encounters, there are deliberate intercepts, with small quadcopters attacking bigger bombers.

This is similar to the pattern in WW1, as early biplanes evolved from scouts to light attack craft and then fighters whose main task was bring down attacking bombers and gain aerial supremacy. This was necessary because the only thing that could effectively take on an aircraft was another aircraft. Almost a hundred years later the same sort of action is playing out in miniature in a struggle to gain control of low-level drone airspace.


Drone operators have little situational awareness. Their view is generally limited to seeing ahead and downwards. Successful attacks usually come from above and behind to achieve surprise.

As well as FPVs, Russians are also taking on Baba Yagas with standard quadcopters. In this case the preferred tactic is for the unarmed attacker is to drop on to the Baba Yaga from above, so the Baba Yaga’s rotors are broken by contact with the attacking drone’s body. The attacking drone may still be lost, but it is a good trade for one of the larger Ukrainian drones.


In March one Russian group displayed a new drone known as “Ram” a quadcopter fitted with metal spokes to damage enemy rotor blades with impunity. This type of modification may be inspired by the annual DroneClash competition held in the Netherlands, a capture-the-flag game in which teams needed to eliminate each others drones in air-to-air combat and drones were fitted with lances, chains and other such weapons.


The logic of these intercepts is obvious: air defence missiles are rare and precious assets costing hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, and are reserved for major threats like cruise missiles. FPV drones costing a few hundred dollars are plentiful and it makes sense to use them wherever possible.


Now the Russians have started to intercept Baba Yagas, the Ukrainians are giving their bombers fighter escorts. This Ukrainian video appears to show a Ukrainian quadcopter covering a Baba Yaga and taking out the Russian drone attempting to intercept it, suggesting that drone tactics are already looking more like WWII than WW1.


  1. Jim says:

    I predicted thith.

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