Nearly two years into Russia’s wider war on Ukraine, tiny explosives-laden drones “are everywhere.” That’s according to Samuel Bendett, a senior non-resident associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
He’s not wrong. Look no farther than Avdiivka, in eastern Ukraine, to see dramatic and horrifying evidence supporting Bendett’s claim. Drones indeed are everywhere. Experienced drone operators are everywhere, too.
For three weeks now, Russian brigades have sent wave after wave of vehicles and infantry in direct assaults on Avdiivka’s dug-in Ukrainian garrison. The Russians have made modest territorial gains, but at the cost of hundreds of vehicles and potentially thousands of lives.
Ukraine’s drones are one reason why the assaults have been so costly. While both sides deploy grenade-dropping quadcopters and exploding first-person-view drones, the drones arguably work better on defense against an exposed attacker than they do on offense—although one creative Russian drone unit is trying to reverse that dynamic.
A Russian infantry team found out the hard way some time before Monday. Caught out in the open around Avdiivka during a daylight assault, they sought cover in an unlikely place: the rusting hulk of a destroyer BTR wheeled fighting vehicle.
The metal shell of an old vehicle might hide you from a drone’s prying video camera. Assuming, of course, the drone didn’t watch you climb into the vehicle.
That’s exactly what happened near Avdiivka. A hovering Ukrainian drone observed as the Russians disappeared inside the wrecked BTR. Soon, a second drone—an FPV model with explosives attached—followed the Russians through the BTR’s open hatch, and blew up.
No survivors emerged from the smoking hulk.
“A lot depends on an experienced FPV pilot,” Bendett explained. The pilot in the Avdiivka incident obviously was very experienced.
Perhaps as experienced as the Ukrainian drone pilot who damaged two Russian tanks in a single expertly-aimed assault around Bakhmut recently. Or the pilot who chased down two Russian air-defense troops on their motorbike in Kherson around the same time.