Drones are hit and miss for Ukrainian soldiers

Drones are hit and miss for Ukrainian soldiers


Some of the drone operators called for UAVs to be tested before they are used in battle

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DONETSK REGION, Ukraine (Reuters) – A Ukrainian soldier near the front line looks into video goggles and clutches a control set in both hands as he guides a drone during the war against Russia.

The soldier, who goes by the call sign "Sam", looks up and complains: "There's no video."

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have become vital for Ukraine's military since Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022. Hundreds can buzz over Russian positions in eastern and southern Ukraine at any one time.

But many of them are hastily and cheaply assembled by volunteers, and the lack of quality is affecting Ukraine's ability to survey and attack Russian positions.

At an undisclosed location along the eastern front line in the Donetsk region, soldiers in the "Raroh" squadron said they would rather have 10 well-made devices than 50 less reliable ones.

"Most common problems are problems with the video link and with the control link," Sam said during a recent visit by Reuters. "And most of them are because of low-quality parts that are used very often to make the drones even cheaper."

Some of the drone operators called for UAVs to be tested before they are used in battle.

"We must test drones supplied by new producers or made by a civilian," said one who goes by the call sign "Fest". "In addition to losing the drone itself, we can lose ammunition which is not cheap."

Another, who uses the call sign "Pit", said drones should conform to standards so that operators know in advance how the device they are asked to operate will work.

"You work a lot and have to do flight after flight while drones differ a lot. One has different controllers, another different settings, and so on," he said. "When under pressure, it happens that you miss a detail and it leads to missing a target."


Ukraine's defence ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the soldiers' remarks.

The use of what are known as First Person View (FPV) drones in battle has been one of the more successful low-cost strategies Ukraine has used on the battlefield.

Russia has expanded its own drone fleet since the start of the war, and has improved its ability to block Ukrainian UAVs through electronic warfare, but drones are an integral part of Ukraine's war effort.

Drones range from small UAVs controlled remotely to larger devices that can fly hundreds of kilometres deep into Russian territory. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said Kyiv plans to produce 1 million drones in 2024.

Video footage provided by Ukraine's military, and demonstrating the use of UAVs in action, shows a small drone carrying an explosive device flying into a Russian armoured vehicle parked in a garage before the screen goes blank. Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

Despite their impact, Sam said drones could not win the war on their own. Artillery remains an important weapon against Russian forces using fortified trenches and dugouts, and Ukraine has told its allies it is running short of ammunition.

"This war has like a high-tech side of it and still the old-school trench warfare side of it," Sam said. "Modern warfare today combines modern tactics with old-school tactics working together."