A Blog by Jonathan Low


Mar 22, 2024

Ukraine Holds Steady 300 Drone-Per-Month Exploding FPV Attack Lead Over Russia

Russia has more of almost everything than does Ukraine: soldiers, artillery, ammunition. 

But the one crucial weapon in which Ukraine has the advantage is FPV attack drones. And even as its artillery shell shortage appears about to end, Ukraine is expected to expand its drone superiority, meaning that with more artillery, its drones will become even more effective. JL 

David Axe reports in Forbes:

There is an FPV drone gap that helps explain how Ukraine halted the Russian winter offensive west of Avdiivka. Ukraine holds a steady 300-drone-a-month lead over Russia in confirmed FPV strikes. Since August, Ukrainian troops have flung at Russian troops 8,273 FPVs—each weighs two pounds and hauls a pound of explosives two miles. The Russians flung 6,059 FPVs. Ukrainian brigades west of Avdiivka launch as many drones as the Russian field armies in the area send soldiers into battle, meaning the Ukrainians are stockpiling thousands of FPV drones just in this sector. Once the shell shortage ends, Ukraine’s drone stopgap will become a drone surplus and a huge firepower advantage.

Despite staggering losses in its two-year wider war on Ukraine, Russia still has more tanks, more artillery and more troops than Ukraine has. What Russia doesn’t have more of, is drones.

One close count of publicized strikes by explosives-laden first-person-view drones reveals that Ukraine holds a steady 300-drone-a-month lead in confirmed FPV strikes.

Since August, Ukrainian troops have flung at Russian troops least 8,273 FPVs—each of which weighs two pounds and hauls a pound of explosives as far as two miles. The Russians have flung back no fewer than 6,059 FPVs.

There likely are many, many more FPV strikes that go unreported. But in any event there evidently is an FPV gap—a gap that helps to explain how Ukrainian troops were able to halt the Russian winter offensive west of the ruins of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine.

The Russians glide-bombed the outnumbered and artillery-starved Ukrainian garrison in Avdiivka—the 110th Mechanized Brigade plus some attached units—and attacked with wave after wave of infantry, ultimately forcing the garrison to retreat to the west under the cover of three brigades: the 47th Mechanized, the 3rd Assault and the 53rd Mechanized.

The Ukrainians gave up the first line of villages a few miles west of Avdiivka and rebuilt their defensive line in the next line of villages: Berdychi, Orlivka and Tonen'ke.

On favorable terrain with water at their backs, the 47th, 3rd and 53rd Brigades turned and fought back with tanks, artillery and mortars—and, most importantly, with drones. Lots of them. “The number of drones the Ukrainian armed forces have in the Avdiivka sector is off the charts,” one Russian military blogger complained.

The same blogger estimated that the Ukrainian brigades west of Avdiivka launch as many drones as the Russian field armies in the area—the 2nd and 41st Combined Arms Armies—send soldiers into battle. If true, that could mean the Ukrainians are stockpiling thousands of FPV drones just in this sector.

The math supports this assertion. Partnering with a growing network of small civilian workshops, the Ukrainian military quickly ramped up FPV production last year. Today it’s acquiring at least 50,000 FPVs a month at a cost of just a few hundred dollars per drone. Kyiv’s goal is to deploy a million FPVs this year.

Russian propagandists claim Russian industry is building even more drones. They toss out eye-watering figures: 100,000 or even 300,000 new FPVs a month.

Don’t fall for the lies. Yes, it’s true that, according to Ukrainian analysis group Frontelligence Insight, Russia’s bigger drone industry “poses a complex problem without a straightforward solution” for Ukraine.

But it’s not clear that Russia’s bigger industry is having the effect that matters: getting combat-ready drones to the front line when and where they’re needed. Which is how the Ukrainians consistently fly more FPV sorties.

Part of the problem is that many Russian drones are badly-made and thus unreliable. One Russian military reporter pointed out that the best Russian FPVs—such as the “Piranha” and “Ghoul” models—are built by enthusiasts drawing on private funds. Piranhas and Ghouls may have struck and immobilized a pair of Ukraine’s American-made M-1 Abrams tanks.

But drones that are paid for with government funds and built by military contractors are “of poor quality,” are vulnerable to Ukrainian radio-jamming and tend to “turn over on approach,” the reporter claimed. The reporter blamed “nepotism and lobbyism” for corrupting the big drone enterprises.

It doesn’t matter if Russia produces more drones than Ukraine does if the drones don’t work. Unless and until the Kremlin reforms the government drone enterprises, the Ukrainian armed forces may continue to deploy more good FPVs.

And while two-pound FPVs ranging two miles can’t fully replace 100-pound artillery shells ranging 15 miles, the drones are an effective stopgap when artillery stocks are low.

And remember: Ukrainian artillery stocks have been very low ever since Russia-friendly Republicans in the U.S. Congress blocked further U.S. aid to Ukraine starting in October.

Ukraine’s artillery crisis is ending. The Czech Republic has brokered the purchase, by a mostly European consortium, a million shells for Ukraine, the first of which should be on the way. And it’s always possible Republicans might relent and approve further U.S. funding—which could pay for another million shells.

What’s exciting, for friends of a free Ukraine, is that the artillery will be additive. The Ukrainians ramped up production of FPV drones, and gained an enduring FPV advantage over the Russians, to mitigate a shell shortage.

But even once the shell shortage ends, Ukrainian workshops still will be building tens of thousands of reliable FPV drones every month. That’s how Ukraine’s drone stopgap could become a drone surplus—and a huge firepower advantage.


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