Drone warfare has grabbed its share of headlines during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine have turned to lethal unmanned aerial vehicles in order to more efficiently surveil, gather intel, strike, and destroy enemy assets. While Moscow has largely relied on its rogue ally Iran for its supply of combat and kamikaze UAVs, Kyiv has developed its own stockpile of experimental drones.
The U.S. and its NATO allies have also delivered a variety of UAVs to aid Kyiv’s defensive efforts in the war, including the American-made Switchblade suicide drone.
Ukraine Develops Its Own Drones
UAV barrages targeting assets and infrastructure deep in Russian territory have become a common feature of Ukraine’s counteroffensive this summer. Russian media outlets claim that over 160 suspected aerial drone attacks have struck Russia over the last year, concentrated in the Bryansk and Belgorod border regions. Assaults in Russia-annexed Crimea and the Black Sea have also ramped up this summer.
Perhaps the most significant drone barrage to strike Russian assets occurred this July, when an experimental Ukrainian sea drone attacked Moscow’s only land bridge to Crimea. This barrage was also significant since it marked the first time Ukraine officially claimed responsibility for such an operation.
As the only independent land-link Moscow has to Ukraine, the Kerch bridge is a critical component of Putin’s war strategy and his ambition to fully take over Russia’s neighboring country. The head of Ukraine’s Security Service told CNN in an interview that the experimental “Sea Baby” drone used in the barrage took months to develop. “Sea surface drones are a unique invention of the Security Service of Ukraine,” Vasyl Maliuk noted, adding that “none of the private companies are involved. Using these drones, we have recently conducted a successful hit of the Crimean bridge, the big assault ship Olengorskiy Gornyak and SIG tanker.”
The explosives-laden unmanned surface vehicle has become an increasingly popular weapon for Ukrainian forces working to thwart Russia in the Black Sea. In a video widely shared on social media, one such drone boat is seen moments before it impacts the Kerch bridge. According to reports covering the incident, the Sea Baby carried roughly 1,800 pounds of explosives, an amount much greater than any other known Ukrainian drone boat can carry.
Late last month, multiple drone attacks struck buildings in Moscow, causing at least four Russian airports to temporarily close. The New York Times has identified at least two drones used in barrages targeting Russia — the Bober and the UJ-22 Airborne.
Very little information surrounding these two UAVs is available. Named after the Ukrainian word for beaver, the box-like Bober drone is seen flying around the skies above Moscow in numerous videos. According to Ukrainian sources, the UJ-22 can fly for six hours at a range of 500 miles. Turkey has also supplied Kyiv with its lethal Bayraktar TB2 drone since before the invasion, but it is unclear whether this UAV has been used in any attacks on Russian territory
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
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