Ukrainian military experts show downed drones that Russia allegedly used to strike critical infrastructure and other targets in Ukraine in December 2022.
Ukraine is creating a new military branch for drone warfare, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.Drones feature more in Ukraine than in any other conflict in history, and are shaping the fighting.A military expert said it’s likely the first time a country has set up a separate drone branch.
Ukraine is creating a new branch of its military dedicated to drone warfare.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an evening address on Tuesday that he’d signed “a decree initiating the establishment of a separate branch of our Defense Forces — the Unmanned Systems Forces.”
“This is not a matter of the future, but something that should yield a very concrete result shortly,” he said, adding: “Drones — unmanned systems — have proven their effectiveness in battles on land, in the sky, and at sea.”
Zelenskyy said the decree would be submitted to Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council for confirmation.
The move is a significant one given the important role that drones have played in the conflict in Ukraine.
Bruce Riedel, a drone warfare expert at the Brookings Institution, told NBC News on Tuesday that he was not aware of any other nation’s military that has a dedicated branch for drones.
Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, hailed the new plan, saying that “drones have fundamentally changed the situation on the battlefield.”
Ukraine has regularly used drones to take out Russian tanks, bomb trenches, hit equipment stores, and target soldiers. Ukraine also claims to have used sea drones to target Russian warships in the Black Sea.
Russian soldiers have even surrendered to Ukrainian drones.
But drone warfare in Ukraine is not one-sided. Russia has also used them in similarly effective ways, as well as to target cities far from the front lines, in attacks that have killed civilians and knocked out Ukrainian power infrastructure.
Russia has been flooding Ukraine’s airspace with drones to find more targets, one Ukrainian commander said in December, adding that it now has five to seven drones for every one Ukraine has.
Last month, a Ukrainian drone operator said that there are now so many drones in the sky that neither Russian nor Ukrainian soldiers know how to advance.
On Tuesday, Zelenskyy praised Ukraine’s use of drones, particularly in operations against Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. “Ukraine has truly changed the security situation in the Black Sea with the help of drones,” he said.
Ukraine has no warships, so it has had to rely on alternative means to combat Russia’s navy.
Both Russia and Ukraine are ramping up their production of drones, in a further sign of how important they’ve become in the war.
In Ukraine, companies and small volunteer groups are making drones. Zelenskyy said that a million extra drones would be made in Ukraine in 2024.
Russia is also making more drones, reportedly including a version of Iran’s Shahed models.
Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said last month that “we will set up mass production of unmanned aerial vehicles, from ultra-small to heavy attack ones.”
Both countries have also relied heavily on cheap, civilian-grade drones, though that reliance appears to be changing.
James Patton Rogers, a drone warfare expert and executive director of the Cornell Brooks Tech Policy Institute, told BI that the heavy use of drones we’ve seen since Russia launched its full-scale invasion will likely be true for all wars going forward.
“This is not going to go away if the war in Ukraine was to stop,” he said. “What we’re seeing here is a feature of all future war.”