Russians are reportedly coming down hard on Ukrainian drone operators with all kinds of weaponry, including artillery, MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System), tanks, mortars, etc., which is causing a high rate of casualties among the Ukrainian drone operators.
CNN recently visited the Ukrainian frontlines near Kreminna city in the Sievierodonetsk Raion (district) of the Luhansk Oblast, where they accompanied Ukrainian drone operators from the Dnipro-1 battalion into the pine forests near the city.
According to CNN correspondents, the forests have become one of the hottest combat zones in the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine. After Ukrainian forces retook Izyum from the Russian forces as part of their surprise counter-offensive in Kharkiv in early September, Russian forces fell back to Kreminna and Svatove in the adjoining Luhansk oblast.
Recapturing Kreminna and nearby Svatove could enable Kyiv’s forces to disrupt Russian supply routes 50 kilometers east through Starobilsk and pave the way for them to launch an offensive on Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, two cities Ukraine lost in the summer last year.
However, this is easier said than done, as the combination of snow, rain, sun, and moderate temperatures playing out every 24 hours in recent months has hampered regional mobility. Meanwhile, Russians have reinforced their defensive lines with heavy weapons and long-range artillery.
“The overall line is static, but all the time, the positions change. Sometimes the Russians go (forward), and sometimes our army goes,” one of the drone operators, who gave his name only as Ruslan, told CNN.
“This is artillery battle all day,” Ruslan said. The hostilities involve almost every weapon system, including artillery, howitzers, tanks, and mortars. However, the most important are the small reconnaissance drones employed by both sides.
These reconnaissance drones are essential for real-time intelligence on enemy positions and movements. Additionally, they also correct artillery fire toward enemy forces.
Russia Tries To Blind The Ukrainian Forces
The ongoing Ukraine war has demonstrated how effective drone-assisted artillery strikes can be, as both the Russian and Ukrainian forces continue to post drone videos on social media showing enemy targets, such as armored vehicles or even self-propelled artillery, being observed for a few seconds before they explode due to an attack by an unseen projectile.
Unlike human artillery observers, drones can provide a bird-eye view of the opponents, making it much easier to watch where the shells are landing and guide them toward the target.
Notably, the critical aspect of artillery duel is counter-battery fire, which relies on counter-battery radars that determine the coordinates of the launcher based on the trajectories of incoming projectiles.
However, with the advent of drones, the artillery duel in Ukraine has morphed into a race where both sides are trying to destroy the enemy artillery first and then target other targets such as armored vehicles or ground troops.
According to CNN’s field report, the drone operators from the Dnipro-1 battalion are using a Mavic-3 drone made by the Chinese consumer drone manufacturer DJI. Russian and Ukrainian forces widely use the Mavic series of drones in the ongoing conflict.
Excellent video of the work of American howitzers M777 on the equipment and headquarters of the occupiers. The fire is adjusted with the help of the Mavic 3 drone.#Ukraine #ukrainewar #WarInUkraine pic.twitter.com/xIqfsPhqWu
— cyberlollipop (@cyberlollipop) June 29, 2022
The Mavic-3 drone is the mainstay of Ukrainian reconnaissance. It weighs less than a kilogram and has a span of only 35 centimeters. It can travel up to 30 kilometers, feeding high-definition video back to the operators.
Together with that, the Ukrainians are using 120mm and 82mm artillery and one Krab 155 mm howitzer, one of about 50 provided by Poland.
These weapons systems are carefully hidden in the woods, and so are the drone operators, who are the most important for effectively employing these long-range fire systems.
Therefore, the Russian forces, who are also using their reconnaissance drones, consider Ukrainian drone operators as ‘high-value targets.’
According to the commander of Dnipro-1’s unit, Graf, the drones have become “one of the most important elements of this war – both for us and the enemy. Nothing can be executed without drones.”
Because of this, Graf’s men are targeted by the Russian forces. “At the moment, the drone operator is one of the most dangerous jobs. The enemy knows we are the eyes of our army. As soon as they locate a drone operator, they use all kinds of weaponry: barrel artillery, MLRS, tanks,” Graf told CNN.
“We have high casualties among the pilots; the enemy is always looking for us,” Graf explained.