Russia and Ukraine are fighting the first full-scale drone war

The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has seen the extensive use of drones by both sides. This has led some to describe it as the first full-scale drone war. In just the first few months, drones moved from playing a secondary role to being one of the most important weapons for reconnaissance, targeting, and attacks. Both sides are utilizing various types of drones in massive numbers unlike ever before. This article will examine how drones are reshaping warfare between Russia and Ukraine.

A New Era of Drone Warfare 儭

Military experts have noted that the Russia-Ukraine conflict represents a watershed moment for drone warfare. For the first time, drones are being used extensively by both sides for critical combat applications like reconnaissance, targeting, and attack.

This shift has been enabled by the proliferation of lower-cost consumer and commercial drones. Previously, advanced military-grade drones were only accessible to a few well-funded militaries like the US. Now, affordable off-the-shelf models can be repurposed for military uses.

As Peter Singer, a specialist in 21st century warfare, noted:

“It used to be that when you talked about drones, you thought CIA or JSOC [US special forces]. Now when you talk about drones, you should be thinking Ukraine.”

Key Roles of Drones 儭

Drones are being used in the Russia-Ukraine war for:

  • Reconnaissance– Drones can stealthily gather intelligence deep behind enemy lines. Both sides rely heavily on drones for reconnaissance.
  • Targeting– The real-time aerial footage from drones helps accurately target attacks on enemy positions.
  • Strikes– Armed drones are directly used to conduct strikes. Ukraine has been especially reliant on using drones supplied by Turkey and the US for attacks.

This wide deployment of drones has been a game-changer, providing a key asymmetric advantage to Ukraine against Russia’s larger military.

Drone Use by Ukraine 綾

Ukraine was already using drones extensively before the Russian invasion, but has dramatically scaled up their use for combat operations.

Bayraktar TB2

The Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone has become something of a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. It can fly long ranges with heavy payloads, gather intelligence, and destroy targets. Ukraine had around 20 Bayraktar TB2s before the war but has successfully deployed them to destroy many Russian targets including artillery, tanks, and supply depots.

They have proven highly effective despite Russia’s anti-drone electronic warfare capabilities. As one Ukrainian official noted, “the Bayraktar drone matters because it’s effective, it’s Ukrainian, and the Russians are afraid of it.”

Impact on Warfare

Ukraine’s creative and extensive use of drones has shaped the course of the war:

  • They enable precision strikes on high-value Russian targets like fuel and ammunition depots. This has slowed Russian advances.
  • Russia has struggled to provide adequate air defenses against drone attacks behind its lines.
  • Drones augment Ukraine’s limited air power and act as a force multiplier.

Other Drones

Ukraine has procured and deployed various other drones as well:

  • Small consumer quadcopters for reconnaissance and targeting
  • Larger US and Turkish drones equipped with anti-armor missiles
  • Loitering munitions like the US Switchblade that can linger over targets before attacking

They have all provided Ukraine’s military with much-needed ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capabilities.

Drone Use by Russia 痰

Russia has not used drones as effectively overall despite having a range of systems like the Orlan-10 reconnaissance UAV.


  • Russia did not anticipate facing Ukrainian drone attacks and lacks counters to small drones.
  • Russian drones appear to have maintenance and reliability issues, with reports of many crashing.
  • They lack the real-time data links and targeting support given to Ukrainian drones by the US and NATO allies.

However, Russia is now looking to expand its drone capabilities. It has brought in the Eleron-3 quadcopter specifically for anti-drone warfare. Russia is also negotiating with Iran to purchase combat drones.

The Future of Drone Warfare 哨

The extensive deployment of drones by both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war points to a new era of drone warfare:

  • Drones have proven highly adaptable for various combat missions.
  • Even inexpensive commercial drones can be used for military purposes effectively.
  • Drone swarms and loitering munitions create new asymmetric threats.
  • Counter-drone weapons and tactics need rapid development.

As drones proliferate worldwide, they could have a profound impact on the future of warfare. The Russia-Ukraine conflict provides a glimpse into that automated future of war.


In conclusion, the conflict in Ukraine is the first full-scale demonstration of drones as a critical new element of modern warfare. Both sides, but especially Ukraine, have creatively adapted drones for crucial combat roles. Drones provide asymmetric advantages that are reshaping the battlefield. Looking forward, the extensive use of drones in future wars seems inevitable. The Russia-Ukraine war may come to be seen as the dawn of a new era of drone warfare.