A Ukrainian drone unit has been striking Russian targets with anti-tank grenades as troops sleep.
The unit has destroyed dozens of vehicles including tanks and command trucks, The Times reported.
Ukrainian forces have had surprising success in using drones to destroy Russian equipment.
An elite Ukrainian drone unit is destroying weaponry of the invading Russian forces as their soldiers sleep, The Times of London reported Friday.
Aerorozvidka, a specialist air-reconnaissance unit within the Ukrainian army, says it has destroyed dozens of “priority targets” including tanks, command trucks, and other vehicles in nighttime raids, the paper reported.
Russian forces stop moving during the night and typically place their tanks among houses in villages where conventional artillery cannot strike them, Yaroslav Honchar, the unit commander based in Kyiv, told the paper.
But the elite drone unit, which has dozens of squads of expert drone pilots, has these stationary vehicles in its cross-hairs.
“We strike at night, when Russians sleep,” Honchar told the paper.
An unnamed Ukrainian soldier told The Times it was “impossible” to see the unit’s drones at night.
“We look specifically for the most valuable truck in the convoy and then we hit it precisely, and we can do it really well with very low collateral damage,” the soldier said. “Even in the villages, it’s possible. You can get much closer at night.”
The unit’s arsenal of drones ranges from cheap commercial ones to heavy-duty octocopters that have been modified to drop anti-tank grenades and to see with thermal cameras, according to the paper.
A Bayraktar TB2 drone.
A Bayraktar TB2 drone.Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.
The R18 drone has a 4-kilometer range — about 2½ miles — and its capacity to drop 11-pound bombs is particularly prized by Honchar’s drone warriors, the paper said. The team also uses the PD-1, or Punisher drone, developed by Ukraine, that can carry about 6½ pounds of explosives up to 30 miles away.
Since Russia began its invasion, Ukrainian forces have had success in using drones such as the highly rated Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 to destroy the equipment of invading forces, Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, wrote in The Spectator.
The success of the drones “speaks more to the skill of its Ukrainian operators and the incompetence and operational failures of Russian forces,” Bronk wrote.
Aerorozvidka’s drone unit, which flies up to 300 missions a day, according to The Times, operates using Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system, which was activated in Ukraine days after Russia invaded.
This means drone teams can operate regardless of internet outages or power failures, which are rampant across the country.
“If we use a drone with thermal vision at night, the drone must connect through Starlink to the artillery guy and create target acquisition,” an Aerorozvidka leader told The Times.
Aerorozvidka uses an advanced NATO-supported intelligence system, Delta, which pulls together information from various sources including satellites and drone reconnaissance to precisely identify targets.
This helps the unit make the most efficient use of its limited supply of bombs, according to The Times.
Aerorozvidka was created by model-plane enthusiasts in 2014 and has since been integrated into the Ukrainian general staff following the success of its operations against Russian forces in Crimea, The Times said.
In recent weeks, supporters from around Europe have been donating drone parts and other equipment such as 3D printers to help build and repair devices damaged by Russian small-arms fire.
The stalled and sputtering spectacle the Russian military is making of itself in Ukraine came as a revelation to General Frank McKenzie – and almost certainly to Vladimir Putin as well. “I am surprised at the problems they were having,” McKenzie said. “It should be very concerning to Russian leadership.”
As commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, McKenzie has spent the last three years operating in close proximity to the Russians in Syria, and knows their history as one of the world’s great tank armies – all of which has been belied by the first three weeks of war.
“They haven’t been able to maneuver their armor effectively,” McKenzie told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. “There’s a tremendous history of that, actually, in the Russian military, being able to do deep-armored operations. At the end of the Second World War, they were as good at that as anybody else. But these guys don’t seem to have remembered that.”
“Should heads roll?” Martin asked.
“I would not be happy if that’s the way U.S. forces were performing,” McKenzie replied. “We have non-commissioned officers that are the backbone of the joint force. They’re the people that actually make sure things are done, that continuing actions are taken, that you dig in, that your tanks don’t run out of fuel.”
McKenzie, himself a tank commander as a young officer, watched in disbelief as an entire armored column advancing on Kyiv literally ran out of gas.
“If you’re going to drive and operate a main battle tank as a commander, and I have, then you are thinking all the time about fueling that beast. If you’re not thinking about fueling that beast, then you’re behind. And they appear to have not taken those basic logistical considerations and trying as they move forward.”
Martin asked, “Are you surprised they seem to be sticking to the roads?”
“That’s a lack of training,” he said. “You’ve got to get off the roads to maneuver. The roads are death traps, particularly for armored vehicles, particularly when you’re fighting people that have good anti-tank systems, and the Ukrainians do have good anti-tank systems.”
On Wednesday President Biden promised the U.S. will send 9,000 more anti-tank weapons. “The United States and our allies and partners are fully committed to surging weapons of assistance to the Ukrainians,” he said, “and more will be coming.”
Including the shoulder-fired Javelin, which dives down on the top of a tank where the armor is thinnest. Using everything from the high-end Javelin to the workaday rocket-propelled grenade launcher, the Ukrainians have destroyed several hundred Russian vehicles.
Anti-tank missile “Javelin” thwarts Russian attacks in UkraineThe weapons the U.S. and allies are providing to Ukraine
Martin asked, “How much of this is due to Russian incompetence as opposed to Ukrainian skill?”
“That’s a great question, and I think we’re going to have to see how this progresses a little further to be able to finally answer that question. I would say this: the Ukrainians have shown great bravery in defending their country. It’s less clear to me how aggressive and motivated Russian forces are down at the individual soldier level, the platoons that are actually driving on the roads, you know, meeting the enemy.”
Ukrainian resistance foiled Russia’s plan to take the capital of Kyiv with a lightning strike in the opening days of the war. With their vaunted tank army stalled, the Russians have reverted to siege tactics – pounding cities and their residents with rockets and artillery. But they are expected to regroup and try again.
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“Is it conceivable to you that Russia could just flat-out fail to take Kyiv?” asked Martin.
“I would be surprised if that outcome happened,” McKenzie replied. “Taking Kyiv is very important to them. I predict they’ll try very hard to take it, and I think there could be a horrific price, actually, to be paid in the civilian population as they move against the city.”