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This drone-on-drone dogfight in Ukraine is a glimpse of the future of war

High-tech tactics of war,
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
Ukrainian Drone School Instructors Teach Ukrainian Military Aerial Reconnaissance And Drone Control In Zaporizhzhia
Ukrainian military assists operator in launching drone from hand on November 11, 2022 in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. (Photo by Elena Tita/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

Early this week the Ukrainian armed forces posted a short video to social media showing its drones in operation, flying over convoys, surveilling battlefields and in one brief bit of footage, taking out a Russian drone by crashing into it at top speed. 

The video, set to electronic music, offers a glimpse into the low-tech approach soldiers are taking to dealing with high-tech tools. 

The footage of the specific incident is short but shows what is starting to happen more and more in Ukraine. With both Russia and Ukraine making heavy use of uncrewed aerial vehicles, UAV dogfights are starting to pop up as the two warring parties try to keep the skies clear. It’s a risky strategy, given that both drones will likely be taken out, and a pretty rudimentary solution for dealing with 21st century technology. But if it’s dumb and it works, it’s not dumb.

Given the damage drones can do, counter-drone defenses have become a priority as the war has dragged on. Beyond electronic countermeasures, both sides have tried to shoot down enemy UAVs. Given that many are quite small, that can be a challenge, as can trying to ram a similarly small quadcopter into another. However it’s clear that is being tried, and somehow working. 

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Often drones end up targeting groups on the ground, not each other. Ukraine recently used its drone arsenal to strike Russian assets in the east and in Crimea. Both sides in the war are using uncrewed surface vessels and aerial vehicles for a variety of purposes — for reconnaissance, as targeting systems for older artillery systems and to launch attacks on ground forces. Every so often the drones themselves are the weapons, smashing into the targets. 

This isn’t the first time two drones duked it out over the skies of Ukraine. In October 2022, footage of another instance hit social media, again set to eastern European techno music. That clip showed more of a standoff, with each UAV trying to maneuver around to avoid strikes and land a killing blow.

It’s worth noting that a recent report from the think tank the Royal United Services Institute found that Ukraine is burning through 10,000 drones per month — a staggering number that does not appear to have drained Ukraine’s stockpile. That includes both military-grade and commercial UAVs, often as a result of better countermeasures by Russian forces, including electronic warfare systems and anti-air systems. 

Apparently drone versus drone combat is another way they can be destroyed. However don’t expect the UAV version of the Red Baron or Pete “Maverick” Mitchell” any time soon. 

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