Suicide drones are causing more headaches for the Ukrainian Armed Forces than russian cruise missiles. Suicide drones or loitering munitions have several advantages over cruise missiles. The small size of the suicide drones makes them extremely difficult to be intercepted by radars, plus their low cost make them very effective for being used for continuous air strikes. Both UAVs and missiles are flying objects that can hit a target and explode, but they pose different types of threats.
Since changing tactics in the direction of increasing airstrikes against infrastructure targets throughout Ukraine, Russian Armed Forces are actively using two main types of weapons: long-range cruise missiles and kamikaze drones (Suicide UAVs).
Both are flying objects that can hit their targets and explode, but they pose different types of threats.
Ukrainian officials has captured debris which they believe is from the Iranian-made Shahed-136 suicide drone model. This debris was discovered after the Russian attack on the Ukrainian fuel storage facility in Kharkiv on October 6.
Missiles, which cost hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars per unit, can fly at high speed, are difficult to shoot down and carry large explosives.
But now the bigger threat to Ukraine comes from UAVs. They have a compact size, slow flight speed and are easy to shoot down if proper strategies and advanced air defense systems are used (which Ukrainian Army have few), but have the ability to attack massively in a “swarm” pattern.
Russia may have used hundreds of millions of dollars worth of missiles on October 10 alone, as President Putin talked about new tactics with the biggest air strikes since the conflict broke out in February.
Russia’s Kalibr missile is said to be able to reach an range more than 2,000km, hitting the target at several times the speed of sound. This type of missile can carry a warhead weighing more than 400kg, and can also carry nuclear warheads.
They are designed to destroy closely guarded, high-value military targets such as warships or enemy command centers. Shooting them down requires complex air defense systems. However, these systems are best suited for the protection of special and important targets rather than for the protection of a large area.
Kiev claims to have shot down more than half of the missiles Russia has launched into Ukraine in the past weeks. However, Russia’s missiles on October 10 caused widespread power outages across Ukraine.
While Western analysts do not know exactly how many missiles Russia has left, limited supplies make continuing such attacks on a large scale not a long-term solution.
Western countries have pledged to provide Ukraine with advanced missile defense systems such as the US NASAMS system, which is expected to be delivered in the coming months. Germany sent one of four IRIS-T air defense systems to Ukraine last week.
Drones, or UAVs, can be used for reconnaissance or as a ground-launching platform. The simplest way to use a UAV as a weapon is to have them rush straight at the target and explode.
A kamikaze drone or suicide UAV, like Iran’s Shahed, costs as little as a small car. Russia has used hundreds of suicide drones in Ukraine in the past few weeks alone and is believed to have purchased around 2,000 drones from Iran.
The Iranian UAVs flies slowly, can easily be shot down with a good aiming rifle. They carry the same amount of small explosives as artillery shells but can fly hundreds of kilometers. But these types of drones are being used by russia in the form of large swarms. And it is extremely difficult to shot down drones incoming in swarm formation.
Kiev claims to have shot down most of the UAVs used by Russia in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Zelensky said on October 19 that Ukraine shot down 233 Shahed UAVs last month.
However, due to their low cost, they can be deployed massively in a swarm fashion and are very difficult to prevent. One or two that pass through can also cause civilian casualties in buildings or damage scattered targets such as substations.
Air defense systems that are used to protect high-value targets from missiles are not entirely suited to stopping low-cost UAVs. An entire swarm of UAVs is still much cheaper than a surface-to-air missile used to shoot down one of them.
Instead, a specialized UAV defense system with AI software helps to detect and track them, using sensors that can “hear” incoming UAVs and shoot them down from the ground.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier this week said that the military alliance will send UAV defense systems to Ukraine in the coming days. However, he did not give any other details.