Two drone incidents, one in which involved drones reportedly penetrating to the heart of Moscow, illustrate how drone warfare continues to dictate the tempo in the skies over Russia and Ukraine.
The first incident occurred earlier this week when video showed a drone flying toward the Kremlin and then exploding. According to media accounts, there were actually two drones and the other was disabled.
Moscow has claimed this could have been an assassination attempt on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The US has denied any foreknowledge of the incident and some have claimed it might be some kind of “false flag” conspiracy. However, what is clear is that a drone was involved and it came to the heart of Moscow.
In another incident caught on video on Thursday evening, a Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone is reportedly seen flying over central Kyiv before being shot down by an air defense missile. The Bayraktar is a type of drone that can carry missiles. Ukraine used such drones during the opening days of the Russian invasion last year.
Since then, the two dozen Ukrainian-owned Turkish drones have mostly been neutralized by Russian air defenses or put out of action. Recent reports claimed Ukraine may have signed a new deal with the maker of the drones but it is unclear what Ukraine is procuring in that deal.
The recent footage shows that Ukraine apparently had to down its own drone because it was out of control. Tech and automotive news website The Drive notes that “the Ukrainian Air Force claims that control of the drone was lost and the decision to destroy it was made in order to avoid ‘unwanted consequences.’”
What is and is not clear about drones in Russia and Ukraine
How did the drone end up over Kyiv and why was Ukraine suddenly using Bayraktars when they hadn’t been using them for many months? The details are unclear.
What is clear is that drones continue to dominate the narratives in the conflict and help dictate its tempo. Ukraine and Russia both possess drones.
Russia uses Iranian-made drones to carry out kamikaze attacks and continued to do so throughout the war. Ukraine uses western-made drones, locally made drones and also the Turkish Bayraktars. The Bayraktars have proven less successful than earlier press reports indicated. They are not very fast and they can be brought down by air defenses.
The Bayraktars work better for Turkey’s uses in Syria and Iraq where there are no air defenses to stop them. Ankara also has tried to sell them to African countries.
Bayraktars, like the US Predator, work best in uncontested airspace. However, the Iranian-made kamikaze drones also have proven that they can’t help Russia win the war. Moscow uses them to terrorize civilians, but Ukrainian air defenses have proven more effective at downing them.
The two drone incidents, one over Moscow and one over Kyiv, show that drones can fly into the heart of the capital city of both countries. In neither incident, however, is a war-winning strategy clear. Drones can’t win wars and they aren’t being used in masses or swarms. This shows that drone technology must increase a lot for the machines to be effective. At president the drones are like the biplanes of the First World War, an exotic and interesting addition to the war effort, but not yet the war winners that planes would prove in the Second World War.