More Guerilla Warfare Lessons From Ukraine: Drones

The Russian army’s invasion of Ukraine has now been in progress for two months. First hoping for a quick and decisive victory, they have been thwarted by the stolid resistance of Ukraine’s active army, bolstered by reserves, foreign volunteers, and lots of ad hoc resistance, by the citizenry. The conflict has all of the hallmarks of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). And some would argue that with a strong cyberwarfare component, it has elements of Fifth Generation Warfare (5GW).

A Drone War

While anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) have deservedly attracted the media spotlight, it is the use of drones that might be the other decisive factor in repelling the Russian forces. Clearly, there is widespread use of drones (a.k.a. unmanned aerial vehicles — UAVs) in Ukraine, by both sides. Many of Ukraine’s drones were not built to military specifications, nor purchased through normal military contract channels. Rather, they are mostly small, consumer-grade drones acquired through commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) buys, often from western European stores. These drones are often thought of as little more than high-tech toys. But their usefulness in spotting and targeting Russian troops and vehicles has been invaluable.

Big Drones, Small Drones

Ukraine’s largest, and most capable drones are Turkish-made TB-2 “Bayraktar” drones. These are considered medium-altitude, long-endurance drones. It has been reported that these drones may have played a role in the much-publicized sinking of the Russian cruiser Moskva. The TB-2s have been used to destroy dozens of Russian armored vehicles. But the vast majority of UAVs being used by Ukrainians are small, short-range, consumer-grade drones, typified by small DJI Mavic 3 quadcopters made in China. Previously used for filming weddings and television commercials, they are now being used to pinpoint hidden Russian vehicles. And some small UAVs have reportedly been modified to drop grenades.

There are now countless videos posted to YouTube, showing small drones pinpointing Russian soldiers, revealing camouflaged Russian vehicles, documenting Russian atrocities, and most importantly, for targeting artillery strikes.

Kamikaze Drones

It was reported that the U.S. government promised 100 Switchblade kamikaze drones to the Ukrainians, and they have been delivered. There will obviously be a learning curve in perfecting their use. And, since they only have 100 of them, it won’t be surprising if the Ukrainians reserve these for the most high-value Russian targets.

Russia’s Drones

Russia, of course, has its own drones. They are using them to great effect — albeit with much less press hoopla. While many Ukrainian drone successes have been widely publicized, only a few Russian drone attacks have been announced by the more OPSEC-conscious Russian military.   The Ukrainians eschewed OPSEC, for the sake of gathering support from the west. Because of Russia’s OPSEC, it is difficult to gauge which side is winning the drone war. The Russians seem to have the upper hand in the far eastern and southeastern periphery of Ukraine. But in the majority of the country, it seems to be Ukrainian drones that rule the skies.

The End Game?

The long-term result of the Russian invasion is still uncertain. If Russia were to unleash the full force of their strategic airpower, then they could bomb Ukraine’s cities into rubble. But doing so might escalate this regional war into World War 3. And, obviously, the United States and NATO allies can continue to supply weaponry and intelligence products to the Ukrainians. But if they were to send in ground troops or NATO-manned aircraft, then that could also easily result in World War 3. So for now, the Ukraine War will be a Proxy War, for the NATO allies. The war may drag on for months or even years, and turn into a war of attrition. Russia’s revised long-term goal might be to simply annex eastern Ukraine — especially its seaports. They might then negotiate a ceasefire. If they could reduce Ukraine to settling for that, then Russia might consider it a victory, albeit a very costly one.

Some unintended consequence of the Ukraine invasion will likely be that both Sweden and Finland will join NATO. Also, the small, independent Baltic nations will seek to heavily arm themselves. All in all, the Ukraine War will result in tremendous distrust of Russia in Europe, for at least a generation. Western reliance on Russian natural gas will be sharply reduced. The Russians will be eyed with suspicion in all business and banking dealings.

In essence, the Russians went in and unjustifiably killed lots of people and destroyed lots of property. They will be feeling the consequences of their actions for many years to come.

Lessons For Preppers

The war in Ukraine has some important lessons for preppers and survivalists, worldwide. In my estimation, this war has underscored several issues:

  • From now on, every war will be a drone war.
  • We need to eye all media as potentially propagandistic.
  • The importance of camouflage. (“If you can be seen, you can be hit.”)
  • We will need drones, as force multipliers.
  • The need for OPSEC.
  • Night vision is truly a force multiplier.
  • The importance of independent water and power supplies.
  • The need for anti-armor weapons. (“Got thermite?”)

Watch, and learn. – JWR