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Ukraine begins using FPV drones with post-target-lock autonomous homing

Ukraine deploys FPV drones equipped with autonomous guidance systems to ensure precise target engagement amid Russian electronic warfare, while Russia develops similar drone technology.
Russian tank hit by an FPV drone. Screenshot from a combat video.
Ukraine begins using FPV drones with post-target-lock autonomous homing

The Ukrainian Defense Forces have added to their arsenal FPV drones that utilize an advanced autonomous guidance system for the final stage of target engagement.

Volunteer Serhii Sternenko, actively involved in fundraising for the production of FPV drones for the Ukrainian forces, shared a video that highlights the capabilities of this equipment, as demonstrated by soldiers from the 60th and 63rd Mechanized Brigades.

The footage reveals the drone’s guidance system engaging a target with precision. Following the target lock, the drone’s communication is disrupted by Russian electronic warfare measures. Despite this interference, the drone autonomously continues its mission, attacking the designated target and achieving a successful hit.

The volunteer highlighted that this innovative technology requires further enhancements and broader implementation, prompting the launch of a UAH 50 million ($1.2 million) fundraising campaign to manufacture and acquire such drones. The funds raised will facilitate the purchase of over 1,300 drones for both day and night use, available in “classic” rotary-wing and fixed-wing configurations, according to Militarnyi.

This campaign seeks to equip the Defense Forces with a substantial number of autonomous kamikaze drones while also promoting the development of this promising technology. Sternenko mentioned that once the technology is fully matured, the government will engage in its procurement to enhance production.

Additionally, he pointed out that the Russians have been exploring this technology for over a month, emphasizing the critical need for its swift development and expansion in Ukraine.

Russia’s FPV UAV with automatic target acquisition

On 6 January, Ukrainian military analyst Serhii Flesh reported intercepting a video link from a Russian FPV drone, revealing that Russian forces are deploying drones equipped with machine vision and automatic target acquisition in an unspecified front area.

He noted that these drones are more accurate, less reliant on human pilots, and immune to electronic warfare (EW) complexes, according to ISW.

Russia’s wired-control FPV drone guidance innovation

Militarnyi reported earlier that military expert Serhii Flesh informed that the Russians were testing FPV drones with advanced wired communications. A unique Russian FPV drone, discovered by Ukrainian forces, carried a 10-kilometer-long coil of thin fiber optic cable, unveiling a new method of drone control.

Russian FPV drone equipped with advanced communication system, March 2024. Photo credits: Serhii Flesh.

This wired communication makes the drone impervious to electronic warfare, offering a constant, high-quality video signal for the operator, thereby enhancing strike accuracy and effectiveness. Additionally, it eliminates the “radio horizon” phenomenon, which causes signal loss during the final dive.

While the development stage of these drones in Russia is unclear, their prototypes have already appeared on the front lines. Serhii Flesh mentioned that a similar concept was proposed at a January hackathon by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense for unmanned systems but was not pursued due to the fragility of fiber optics.

Wire control may seem exotic in the realm of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), yet it has a long history in controlling anti-tank missile systems, ranging from old Soviet models to modern fourth-generation designs. Examples of wire-guided anti-tank guided missile systems include the Israeli Spike-ER and the US’s BGM-71 TOW.

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