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CNN: Ukraine’s AI-enabled drones disrupting Russia’s oil industry, so far successfully

Ukraine employs AI-enabled drones to target Russian oil refineries, disrupting a vital revenue stream for Moscow’s invasion. These drones, with machine vision, navigate autonomously and have significantly impacted Russia’s refining capacity, CNN says.
drone attacks on Russian oil refineries
Fire at Tatneft’s Taneco oil refinery in Russia’s Nizhnekamsk on the morning of 2 April 2024 following a drone strike. Photo:
CNN: Ukraine’s AI-enabled drones disrupting Russia’s oil industry, so far successfully

Ukraine’s AI-enabled drones are disrupting Moscow’s oil-refining industry in a concerted effort to undermine a crucial revenue stream funding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The drones, equipped with basic artificial intelligence, have struck oil refineries deep inside Russian territory with remarkable precision, as the attacks are enabled by AI technology, giving the drones “machine vision” to navigate and identify targets autonomously.CNN says.

On 2 April, a Ukrainian drone hit the Niznekamsk refinery over 1,100+ km from the border, causing a fire. It was “one of the deepest operations into Russian territory,” according to CNN’s Ukrainian source.

Previous strikes targeted the Ryazan refinery, over 500 km from Ukraine, and numerous other refineries in European Russia, namely in Samara Oblast, Krasnodar Krai, Kaluga Oblast, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Oryol, Kursk, Volgograd, Tuapse City, and Saint Petersburg (see the timeline of this year’s strikes here).

Another oil refinery targeted in Russia’s Tatarstan by drones

Behind the strikes are Ukraine’s two major intelligence agencies, the Security Service and the Main Directorate of Intelligence. Ukraine uses various indigenous suicide drones to carry out the attacks, with the Liutyi unmanned aircraft with a combat range of 1,000 km being the most prominent UAV.

CNN notes that rather than hitting storage facilities, Ukraine has focused on distillation units where crude is processed into fuel, maximizing economic impact. Experts say 12-14% of Russian refining capacity is now offline as a result of these strikes.

The attacks have been enabled by advanced drones with extended range, according to a source close to Ukraine’s drone program, as reported by CNN.

Accuracy under jamming is enabled through the use of artificial intelligence. Each aircraft has a terminal computer with satellite and terrain data,” a source close to Ukraine’s drone program told CNN. “The flights are determined in advance with our allies, and the aircraft follow the flight plan to enable us to strike targets with meters of precision.”

According to Noah Sylvia, a research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, a UK-based think tank, the drones utilize ‘machine vision,’ a form of AI, which is trained to recognize geography and targets for navigation, CNN says. Once deployed, they can autonomously identify their location without requiring satellite communication.

Expert: Ukraine’s persistent drone strikes could disrupt Russian war machine, trigger fuel deficit

Global oil prices have risen amid the strikes, causing concerns in the US over potential economic impacts. However, Kyiv has vowed to continue the attacks to defund the Russian war machine by disrupting energy exports Moscow relies on.

These weeks have demonstrated […] that the Russian war machine has vulnerabilities that we can reach with our weapons,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in one of his daily addresses to the nation.

With US funding stalled for six months now, Ukraine may have more leeway to expand strikes to oil export facilities.

In December 2023, Ukroboronprom confirmed that domestic one-way attack drones with a combat radius of up to 1,000 kilometers were already in serial production in Ukraine, with orders placed by the Defense Forces, according to CEO Herman Smetanin.

In October 2023, Ukraine’s Minister for Strategic Industries, Oleksandr Kamyshin, announced plans to significantly increase drone production to tens of thousands of various types – mainly small FPV kamikaze drones – per month by the end of the year to support defense efforts amid Russia’s invasion.

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