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Russia deploys cheap DIY drones to divert Ukraine’s air defense

“We once saw Shahed drones as a distraction for Ukrainian air defense from cruise missiles. Now these cheap drones divert attention from the Shaheds as well,” aviation expert Valerii Romanenko said.
Ukrainian air defense
Ukrainian air defense mobile group. Credit: Ukraine’s General Staff
Russia deploys cheap DIY drones to divert Ukraine’s air defense

Russia has initiated attacks on Ukraine, deploying newly developed, crudely constructed do-it-yourself drones as a tactic to distract Ukrainian air defenses, Liga.net media outlet reported, citing Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force. According to Ihnat, Russia is likely purchasing components to manufacture these drones from various online marketplaces, including AliExpress.

Ukrainians, upon hearing the distinctive engine sounds of the new Russian drones, have aptly nicknamed them “lawnmowers.”

Following a report by the Ukrainian Air Force that Ukrainian air defense forces shot down an unidentified unmanned aerial vehicle during a Russian attack on the Kyiv Oblast on the night of 23 October, Russian milbloggers reported on the Russian first use of the new Italmas drones. However, this information has not been confirmed by any sources other than reports from military bloggers.

“There have been instances with balloons, as well as unidentified UAVs. The Russians are utilizing everything within their reach to cause us difficulties,” Ihnat said.

Russia is also using its diplomats and emissaries around the world to acquire technical equipment and arms that can be used against Ukraine, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate, Andrii Cherniak, told Liga.net.

The first documented use of these unknown drones was back in May 2023, though their existence was only recently officially acknowledged. On 4 May 2023, Ukraine’s Joint Forces Command reported downing a primitive, DIY drone likely used for reconnaissance in Sumy Oblast.

A DIY Russian drone shot down over Sumy Oblast on 4 May 2023. Credit: Joint Forces Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

One of the downed homemade drones in Kyiv Oblast was found to have a corner reflector on it. Corner reflectors are devices that strongly reflect radar signals and make objects more visible to radar systems. The presence of such a reflector suggests the Russians may be intentionally building these drones to be easily detected on radar. This could be a strategy to provoke and reveal the locations of Ukrainian air defense systems, Defense Express suggested.

A DIY Russian drone shot down over Sumy Oblast on 4 May 2023. Credit: Serhii Flash

According to Valerii Romanenko, aviation expert, and senior research fellow at National Aviation University, these rudimentary drones have plywood fuselages, foam wings, and even use plastic bottles for fuel tanks.

“The foam wing, body parts, and tail feathers are cut out of flat pieces of plywood. Two engines: a traction and a thrust engine. The chassis is stationary; it does not retract. The wheels are from a children’s bicycle or something similar. Instead of a fuel tank – a canister of six to eight liters,” Romanenko said.

With costs around $1500 versus $200,000 or more for a missile, the drones force Ukraine to expend more costly munitions.

“Such a drone can be assembled at any aero modeling club. It points towards the enemy’s utilization of drones that are not only primitively assembled but also produced at a minimal expense,” Oleh Katkov, editor-in-chief of Defence Express said in an interview with Espreso.tv.

Ukraine has to minimize the threat posed by such drones by using mobile air defense units equipped with machine guns and light artillery, Romanenko said. More advanced systems like the Gepard anti-air tanks can also help shoot them down without wasting valuable missiles.

“We once saw Shahed drones as a distraction for Ukrainian air defense from cruise missiles. Now these cheap drones divert attention from the Shaheds as well,” Romanenko explained.

While primitive, the drones remain dangerous. Russia likely has ample resources to keep producing both Shaheds and new DIY drones, Andrii Cherniak said.

“They (Russian troops – ed.) employ a variety of tactics to identify vulnerabilities in our air defense system, utilizing an array of equipment including various types of drones, ballistic missiles, and air defense assets in a ground-to-ground capacity. The objective is to ascertain the locations and specific targets that are susceptible to attack,” Cherniak concluded.

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