When you feel that your life and your people are in danger, you start thinking creatively about any way to help. This is what happened in Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
A group of volunteers, IT experts and non-experts united together to build military drones. Of course, they can’t and don’t have enough time to build drones from scratch. They used non-military drones that are available in the Ukrainian markets.
These drones are made to be used for fun and to play with and record sky-to-earth videos using their camera. However, Ukrainians took those commercial drones and militarized them, making them more powerful and able to handle up to 5 kg bombs.
But how could commercial drones pass radars and not be shot by the Russian army? How effective can they be? And what missions have they accomplished?
Aerorozvidka is the unit that we are talking about. It is a group of volunteer drone and IT enthusiasts that was founded in May 2014 after the first Russian invasion.
You could say that this is a “war startup” since it is a non-governmental organization that relies mainly on crowdfunding to continue.
Aerorozvidka produces or modifies consumer drones to be used in a military environment and to drop explosives on Russian vehicles as they sleep.
To do this, the unit makes use of a wide variety of commercial drones available in the Ukrainian market. These commercially available drones, such as the Chinese DJI and Autel drones, the French Parrot drones, and others, are modified into militarized versions. Even with the use of the Bayraktar usage in Ukraine, it is still belevied that the US MQ-9 Reaper is a better addition. Read more about the topic MQ-9 Reaper vs Bayraktar TB-2.
This was the fast and easy response by the Aerorozvidka unit to the invasion. But they are now producing their own drones. Having the capability to build the drone from the start gives them more space to develop more powerful drones.
Octocopter R-18 Drone
After using commercial surveillance drones in its early days, the unit’s engineers, software designers and drone enthusiasts began developing their own designs.
The R-18 octocopter is the team’s most valued drone, built from scratch. It has a maximum range of 4 kilometers, a flying period of 40 minutes, and can drop 5-kilogram bombs.
The manufacturing cost of each R-18 is $20,000, making them far less expensive than anti-tank missiles such as the $40,000 NLAWs (New Generation Light Anti-tank Weapons).
When compared to NLAWs, the R-18s may be used over and over again, but only if they are not damaged by Russian fire.
The Team Divisions
Drones, Deltas, and a cybersecurity team make up Aerorozvidka’s three divisions.
The Drones team is responsible for the building and maintenance of the drones. This is the team that is always in the main picture. However, this team is backed up by another critical two teams.
The Delta team is responsible for finding and detecting targets that could easily be destroyed by the drones. Using data from a variety of sources, including ground agents and drone reconnaissance, the NATO-supported web-based situation awareness system Delta builds a map of Russian targets to be attacked.
This team relies mostly on the internet to connect to each other and to create the maps. But due to the internet and electricity shortages in the country, the unit uses Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite network, which ensures 24/7 connectivity.
Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 26, 2022
And lastly is the cybersecurity team that insure all these connections are stable, secure and reliable.
Mykhailo (a member and head of communications for Aerorozvidka) claimed that the unit conducts roughly 300 reconnaissance missions a day and has destroyed “dozens, possibly hundreds” of Russian vehicles.
#Ukraine: A Ukrainian drone dropping munitions onto Russian vehicles. A serious toll; circa 4x Command/Comms/EW Trucks, 3x Supply Trucks, 2x BMP/MT-LB armoured vehicles, 1x BMP-2 and 2S19 Msta-S 152mm SPG (Previously posted).— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) March 30, 2022
Usually RKG-1600 or adapted RPG munitions are used. pic.twitter.com/W5fp5tIGoV
Aerorozvidka often conducts flights at night because its thermal imaging cameras provide them a significant advantage over their enemy. Drone soldiers equipped with night-vision goggles and sniper guns would use quad bikes to maneuver through the forest secretly and strike the Russian military.
A major success was the halting of a Russian attack on Kyiv with a 40-mile-long convoy. Russia gathered a 40-mile-long military column to strike the Ukrainian capital from the north one week into its invasion of Ukraine.
Video of the attack:
According to a Ukrainian commander, a group of 30 special forces and drone operators on quad bikes attacked a convoy of armored vehicles and supply trucks within days, causing the operation to stop.
The Russians divided the column into smaller groups in order to make progress towards Kyiv, but the same unit was able to launch an attack on its supply depot, halting the process completely.
Will they Hold up?
The success of Ukraine’s tactics has been greatly aided by the ability to keep track of Russian movements from the air. However, there is a limited supply of drone components for Aerorozvidka’s development and replacement efforts.
Aerorozvidka is facing serious finance and supply problems. In order to acquire crucial components like sophisticated modems and thermal imaging cameras, it relies on crowdsourcing and contributions.
Some sophisticated modems and thermal-imaging cameras manufactured in the United States and Canada are subject to export limits, so they’ve turned to crowdfunding and asked a worldwide network of friends and supporters to locate them on eBay or other websites.
The Russian military is gradually adjusting to Aerorozvidka’s drones and shooting them, making the need for more components and money critical.