Kamikaze Drones and How to Fight Them – Expert Opinion – Kyiv Post

Sergey Surovikin, former commander in chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces and now commander in chief of the Russian attack on Ukraine, is fighting a battle to defeat Ukraine’s air defenses. He must do this for two reasons: i) without Russian air superiority, a Russian strategic offensive is unlikely; and ii) even worse for him, if Ukraine takes control of its own skies, a Russian military defeat becomes more likely.

A favorite weapon in Surovikin’s campaign to dominate the Ukrainian skies is the Shahed-136 drone. It’s not particularly high tech. It’s noisy, prone to interference, flies in a straight line to a pre-programmed grid coordinate, and doesn’t go much faster than a car. Ukrainian police gunned them down with automatic pistols.

Military experts say Surovikin is sending waves of shaheds to Ukraine – estimated at between 150 and 200 since early October. Their goal seems not so much to blow things up as to spy on Ukraine’s air defenses and force the Ukrainians to fire expensive anti-aircraft missiles at dirt-cheap Iranian drones.

“If there were 2,000 to 3,000 of them [Shahed drones]then Ukraine would face a completely different situation on the battlefield,” military expert Agil Rustamzade said in an Oct. 12 interview on the News from the Caucasus (GSAC) channel.

“Yes – [these drones] are a serious weapon and should not be underestimated, but due to their technical limitations and small numbers, they will not change the war,” he stressed.

Russia’s goals in using drones

Rustamzade explained that attacks are carried out in small groups to disperse Ukrainian air defense systems and help Russian attackers detect the locations and types of these systems. During drone strikes, the Ukrainian air defense becomes visible, turning on radars and readying their weapons for combat. This helps Russian intelligence identify their locations for further destruction.

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“Kamikaze drones are a weapon of asymmetric warfare. They win even if they get shot down. The drone takes off and already has [effectively] accomplishes its task because it causes the output of an expensive rocket for which there is no substitute. Ukraine will [soon] receive [the high tech] NASAMS anti-aircraft missile system and missile reloads therefor. But where is Ukraine supposed to find a rocket for them now? [Soviet-era] Air defense systems S-300, S-125 and Osa?” asked Rustamzade.

Another aim of Surovikin’s drone strikes is to hit infrastructure and terrorize Ukraine’s civilian population, with the aim of undermining public resistance and forcing the Ukrainian military command to move air defense systems from the front to the rear.

“Strikes against energy infrastructure and assets are the only remaining trump card [for the Russian military] to put pressure on the people of Ukraine,” Yigal Levin, an Israeli military expert, said in an Oct. 18 interview on the Nastoyashaye Vremya channel.

The Kremlin’s aim is to “intimidate the Ukrainian people” so that “the winter will be difficult” and “to force President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to sit down with him at the negotiating table [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Levin said.

How Ukraine should react

Military observers argue that the Ukrainian army should respond to drone strikes with stealth and agility. Camouflage, dummy weapons, efficient transport and effective defensive positions are all important tactics for responding to incoming Russian missiles and drones, they say.

Rustamzade noted in an October 18 interview on the Ukrlife.tv channel that Ukraine should decentralize infrastructure, especially the energy system. He recommended deploying backup power generation capacity so that power could be generated in an alternative manner if one station went offline or disrupted the operation of another.

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According to Ukrainian journalist Yurii Butusov, the US military has powerful air defense systems and could, for example, deploy high-tech Patriot interceptor missiles in Ukraine. But for real air superiority and “for air combat and the use of modern air-to-air missiles, Ukraine needs F-16 (combat) aircraft,” he said.

Butusov also recommended that Ukraine use light propeller-driven fighters, such as the EMB-314 Super Tucano. This is because these aircraft can be optimized for intercepting Iranian kamikaze drones and easily modified to attack ground targets.

Rustamzade said that old-school anti-aircraft guns also have a place in modern Ukrainian air defense.

“A competent machine gunner standing on the last line of defense near the power plant, with a heavy 12.7mm machine gun with explosive bullets…or ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns…would be a quick and effective way to strengthen Ukraine anti-drone defense,” said Rustamzade. He emphasized that this is faster than training crews, which would take one to two weeks.

Experts generally agree that a Ukrainian air defense system is unlikely to fully protect all civilian structures from Russian air strikes.

“The Israeli ‘Iron Domes’, which have been known since 2014, are still in use [sometimes] miss intercepting homemade ammunition,” Peter Chernik said in an Oct. 19 Radio HB interview.

“The bottom line is we [Ukraine] further increase the quality of our knowledge [how we] Shoot down those drones. And I’m sure that in a few weeks we will reach the figure of 95 percent of downed UAVs, and maybe a little more,” said Chernik.

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