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Drone Wars: Technology's Impact on Russia-Ukraine Conflict

The Turkish-developed Bayraktar TB2 drones were heralded as the future of warfare and the saviour of Ukraine in the early months of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) demonstrated their prowess by attacking Russian armoured vehicles, patrol boats, and tanks.

Just over a year later, however, the once-valuable drones, the majority of which are said to have been downed by Russian forces, have largely vanished from the battlefield. This development emphasises how technology, and drones in particular, are changing the way modern warfare is conducted.

When modest air and electronic warfare defences are present, drones like the Bayraktar TB2 function well. Slower and low-flying UAVs become vulnerable targets, nevertheless, as shown in situations like Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh, where well-planned air defence systems were in place. Russia quickly adjusted by strengthening its electronic warfare capabilities, downing and jamming many of Ukraine's drones with success.

Today, rather than using them for direct attacks, Ukraine mostly uses the remaining Bayraktar TB2 drones for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations. Ukrainian forces direct other drones for strikes while keeping a safe distance from Russian air and electronic warfare systems by utilising the sophisticated optics and sensors of the drones. With this modification, they can reduce the chance of losing more drones while still maintaining some level of usefulness.

According to a new assessment, Russia has won the upper hand in drone warfare, shooting down 10,000 Ukrainian drones monthly on average. Russian tactics now heavily rely on electronic warfare, which has a substantial impact on the severe losses Ukrainian drones have sustained. Electronic warfare is cited in a report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) of the UK as being crucial to Russia's capacity to adapt and overcome early defeats.

Although the Ukrainian forces held the upper hand at first, the RUSI assessment emphasises the necessity of being watchful and flexible. The Ukrainian side may suffer from complacency as the Russian military modifies its tactics. To obtain an advantage on the battlefield, constant innovation and adaptability are required given the changing nature of warfare and the role of technology.

The government of Ukraine and Western intelligence agencies claim Russia has been employing drones built in Iran, the Shahed-136. It contains explosives in a warhead on its nose and is also referred to as the Geranium-2 by Russia. It is intended to hover over a target until ordered to attack. The Iranian government claims to have given Russia a small number of drones before to the conflict. However, the US and the EU have charged Iran with regularly delivering drones to Russia, and the EU has responded by imposing sanctions.

The use of drones in Ukraine highlights how technology is used in contemporary combat. Offering observation, intelligence, and strike capabilities, drones have significantly increased the effectiveness of the military. The benefits offered by these autonomous devices can be neutralised, though, as Russia's response to the original danger shows, with the right countermeasures. As both sides look to utilise and defend against new technologies, future battles are likely to see an increased focus on electronic warfare and anti-drone tactics.

The constant competition between offensive and defensive capabilities will likely determine the future of warfare as technology develops. Drone use is on the rise, and the impact on the Russia-Ukraine war is a sobering reminder that technology is not a cure-all. In the dynamic environment of modern warfare, innovation, agility, and a thorough understanding of battlefield dynamics are also crucial for success.


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