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Game Changer: How Ukraine Is Using Drones to Make Russia Pay

Switchblade Drone
Switchblade drone. Image Credit: Industry handout.

Drones In Ukraine Surprisingly Making A Difference Against Russia: At the time of the Russian invasion on February 24, the Ukrainians had few TB2 Turkish-made drones and it was expected that the Russian air defenses would sweep them quickly from the skies. That, like other intelligence, was off the mark. 

Drones have been invaluable for the Ukrainian military, and they’ve played an important role in slowing the Russian advance and pinpointing targets for artillery fire as well as providing close air support. The question is, do they have enough to win the war? 

Just before the Russian invasion started, Russian-backed separatists in “the Donetsk People’s Republic” in a deception operation, claimed to have shot down a Ukrainian drone with Nazi markings on it. This and several other incidents were conducted by Russia to show that Ukraine was the aggressor and that the invasion was justified. 

Once the war began, Ukraine had only about 20 of the Bayraktar TB2 UAVs, but they were quickly performing much more effectively than their small number would suggest. They were used very effectively against Russian armored columns that, due to a mild winter were road-bound and easy targets for the drones overflying the columns. 

With the slow, lumbering speed (cruising speed of about 80 mph), the TB2s were considered easy pickings for Russian air defense units. But that hasn’t happened, which has been a major surprise to military analysts. 

Why Have the Ukrainian UAVs Been So Effective?

Lauren Kahn, a drone expert for the Council of Foreign Relations said, “Even with the drones’ record of success, everyone expected that, once they really faced the full gamut of Russian defenses, they would stand no chance.”

She added that the continued success of the drones “is really raising questions about the Russians’ capabilities.”

In fact, the opposite has been in effect. The Ukrainian air defenses have been more effective at shooting down Russian aircraft than the Russians have been at bringing down Ukrainian manned and unmanned aircraft. Part of the reason for this was the Russian’s overconfidence which bordered on arrogance in their superiority. 

The Russians believed that the war would be over in short order and that their forces would quickly sweep the Ukrainians aside. Therefore, they foolishly didn’t bring many air assets to bear. Once they began to bog down due to much stiffer Ukrainian resistance, they tried to bring their air defense units and logistical support up on roads that were jammed packed with vehicles. They proved to be easy pickings for Ukrainian drones that took many of them out before they could be used by Russian front-line units. 

There have been reports that the Ukrainians used a TB2 drone as a decoy that helped them sink the Russian cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea. It appears that the TB2 was used as a spotter to help target the Moskva with Neptune anti-ship missiles

Both sides are also using commercial off-the-shelf drones for use in surveillance and intelligence gathering.  

Most Commonly Used Drones:

Bayraktar TB2 Drone – The Turkish-made drone has surprised military analysts with the effectiveness it has displayed on the battlefield. The TB2 is most effective against unarmored vehicles, enemy troop concentrations, and tanks. 

Bayraktar TB2 Drone

Bayraktar TB2 Drone of the Ukrainian Air Force.

Length – 21 feet
Wingspan -39 feet
Communication Range<300 km (186 miles)
Cruising Speed – 80 mph
Armament – 4 Laser Guided Smart Ammunition missiles
Endurance – 27 Hours
Operational – Maximum Altitude – 18.000 feet – 25.000 feet

Switchblade 300/600 –

The small armed drone can be carried by a soldier in a rucksack, quickly set up and launched, and gives the front-line infantry troops a kamikaze-type of loitering munition that can take out troops, and with the 600, armored vehicles. While the warhead is small, it is effective and over 4,000 were used by Special Operations Forces against ISIS. 

Operational range – 6.2 miles or 15 min (Switchblade 300)
25 miles or 40 min (Switchblade 600)
Flight ceiling – 15,000 ft
Flight altitude – 500 ft
Maximum  cruising speed – 300: 63 mph Model 600: 70 mph

Switchblade Russia Ukraine

Switchblade drone. Image Credit: Industry handout.

Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems –

This US Air Force designed and developed UAV is part of the new $800 million dollar aid package that is going to Ukraine.  There are expected to be more than 121 drones included in the aid package and are produced by AEVEX Aerospace.

Not much is known right now about the capabilities of the Phoenix Ghost in terms of capabilities and specifications but it is believed to be similar to the Switchblade kamikaze-type of drone. 

Initially, the drone was reported to have been “developed by the Air Force in response, specifically, to Ukrainian requirements.” However, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby denied that theory, stating that the Phoenix Ghost was “developed before” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“It was developed for a set of requirements that very closely match what the Ukrainians need right now in Donbas,” he said.

The Phoenix Ghost is “designed for tactical operations,” Kirby said. “In other words, largely but not exclusively to attack targets. It, like almost all unmanned aerial systems, of course, has optics. So it can also be used to give you a sight picture of what it’s seeing, of course, but its principal focus is to attack.”

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for, he has covered the NFL for for more than 10 years and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

Written By

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.



  1. Alex

    April 23, 2022 at 9:27 am

    Only so far everything is sad for the Bandera Nazis: the drones either shoot down or capture the Ukrainians of Donbass.

  2. CK

    April 26, 2022 at 10:53 am

    Our drones capture Ukrainians of Donbass? Wow, I didn’t know they had such a feature. Must be very handful for airlifts!

  3. Alex

    April 29, 2022 at 9:23 am

    If someone wants to know the truth about the civil war in the Donbass, about all the atrocities of the Bandera clean-ups and why Russia was forced to intervene, then it is better to watch films by independent journalists. There are already many such journalists who fight for truth and freedom. For example, a documentary by the German journalist Wilhelm Domcke-Schulz.

    A documentary film about the war crimes of the Bandera Nazis during the period of Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine is in production. It will be a real information bomb, where the war crimes of Bandera Nazis will be shown and proved.

    The documentary “Remember Odessa” tells how the Bandera Nazis burned Ukrainians alive and other heinous war crimes.

    The documentary “To Live and Die in Donbass” tries to fill this gaping information gap in the West. He looks into the tormented soul of the inhabitants of Donbass, who really want only one thing – to live self-determining according to their own rules and values. Not submitting to foreign forces and ideologies.

    In the east of Ukraine, in the Donbass, a war has been raging since the beginning of 2014. A civil war that claimed more than 15,000 lives over the years, including several hundred children. They had to die, because the national-fascist coup government in Kyiv, funded by the West, trained and militarily heavily armed, would not tolerate any resistance to their illegitimate rule, no matter the cost.

    Therefore, in April 2014, the putschists deployed the Ukrainian army, supported by dozens of right-wing extremist volunteer battalions, and have since bombed city centers, residential areas, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, killing civilians.

    This perennial crime has gone completely unnoticed by the Western public. Politicians and the media avoid this topic and reports about how the devil pours holy water. Because a public discussion about the crimes of the Ukrainian regime would reveal only one thing – with what mass murderers and terrorists the so-called “west of values” in Ukraine has a common language, if only to defend their goals and interests.

    Lend-lease is a commodity loan, and not cheap: for all the ammunition, equipment and food supplied by the United States, many future generations of Ukrainian citizens will pay. Zelensky is driving the country into a debt hole.

  4. CK

    April 29, 2022 at 1:54 pm

    Ah, I see your tactic. You add a little shitty first paragraph so it doesn’t detect your duplicate post. Is this what it has come to now, you just posting the same exact post 2, 3, 4, 5 times per article?

    Wow, did they run out of paper in Russia, Alex? You guys can’t print new material? Literally using the same lines, over and over again, and now in duplicate in every post!

    Are you so defeated you can’t even come up with anything new? How sad. Now the idiot is talking about lend-lease at the end of his post, because he literally just copy + pasted it from another thread, with zero relevance to this one.

    Here’s a reminder:

    If someone wanted to know the truth about anything in Ukraine Alex, the last person they would go to is you.

    Paragraphs and paragraphs of bollocks, dubious claims about “independent journalists”, random documentarians, conspiracy theorists, deluded claims that of course, have no backup, lie after lie after lie.

    Classical Kremlin troll approach. Just flood the internet, the comments, the media, with tosh, doesn’t matter what it is, just make sure you write some old nonsense. Make sure to say the claim is supported by some dude in Germany, France, the states. If it’s a “documentary” (usually from youtube) then the better.

    Anything that victimises Russia, always the victim, always the bullied, never the problem. It’s always the Nazis. It’s always some pseudo-historical point.

    Anyone that has had the misfortune to study your “tactics” sees the forest for the trees, the pattern of lies, disinformation, blanketing of random claims, deflection, obfuscation, and other words beyond your vocabulary.

    It’s hopeless Alex. Your lies are as short as your intellect. What a pathetic job, to sit in your government shed, spreading your pathetic, government lies.

    A pathetic job for a truly pathetic man. A better match could not be made in heaven.

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