Drones on the Battlefield, Killing on the Economy


Intelligence Research Observatory


Drones on the Battlefield, Killing on the Economy


Methodology-Open Source Intelligence


Author-S.A. Cavanagh & Chuck Stevens

“War is an economy. It’s money,” said Graf, a stout, bearded Ukrainian soldier in charge of his unit’s drone team. “And if you have a drone for $3,000 (¥396,326) and a grenade for $200, and you destroy a tank that costs $3 million, it’s very interesting.” (Japan Times, 2023)


Background & Analysis

Ukrainian Drones Killing on the Economy

When looking at the heavy losses of Russian troops and armor, the one common denominator throughout this conflict has been the effectiveness of Ukrainian drone troops.  Ukrainian soldiers have taken an off the shelf commercially available toy, and attached cameras and ordinance to the airframe.  While difficult to quantify how many Russian soldiers and tanks have been killed by Ukrainian drones, this analysis would rank drone killers just as effective at killing, as dumb mines and booby traps.  Drones are inexpensive and lethal making them effective force multipliers. Ukrainian drones play a psychological-operational role as they cause fear and terrorize Russian troops.

For some of the most up to date and raw footage of Ukrainian Drone troops killing Russian soldiers, De Faakto has located what is likely Ukrainian Intelligence Social Media Account on Twitter @parrot_soldier


Ukrainian Drones an Economical Force Multiplier

Caveat-Ukraine is deploying virtually any type of drone at its disposal, Military designed and manufactured drones carry heavier payloads, require more technical support and cost $20,000 and up. This analysis is examining off the shelf, inexpensive drones that cost in the $2000-$15000 range, are small portable, often fold and carry lighter payloads of single grenades and mortar bombs, they generally have less range/distance and battery life, however appear to perform strongly under most conditions


Heinz 57 Drones (Forbes, 2023)

  • Off the Shelf Drones-Cost Factor $2000-$15,000
  • DJI Matrice 300 reconnaissance drones manufactured in China-$15,000 USD (NPR, 2023)
  • DJI Mavic 3-$3500 (Newsweek, 2022)
  • (Russia has started to deploy the same Chinese DJI drones in Ukraine)
  • Ukrainian UAV-7, as they are known, costs about $2,000

Image of DJI Drone courtesy of DJI

Ukrainian built drone with RPG launcher-thought to be a UAV 7 by Matrix UAV-Image courtesy of Matrix


Military Grade Drones in Service Ukraine-A comparison

British Malloy T-150 drone has been shot down by Chechen troops-this drone is a more expensive military grade drone, prices are unknown but likely much more expensive then off the shelf models

Taiwanese Revolver 860 drones are being supplied to Ukraine, this portable, folding octocopter made by Dronevision can drop up to  8 mortar bombs-this is another military grade drone that costs $10 Million USD per unit

Image of Malloy T-150 Drone courtesy of Sky News

Image of Taiwanese Visiondrone Revolver Drone-courtesy of Mezha Media


Drone Optics the Eyes of ISR

With the deployment of drones to the battlefield, the Ukrainian forces have essentially built a real time intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) asset. From drone soldier to command, information is moving fast. Drones in general are being used to spot artillery strikes from a bird’s eye view, which is highly effective for the adjustment of fire.  It is unknown if hobbyist drones are used consistently for artillery spotting or if military grade drones are mostly being used. Having a real time ISR is an important force multiplier for any fighting force.

Drone-Birds Eye view of battlefield trenches courtesy of Reddit.com


Infantry Killers

  • Drone operators with ordinance attached have proved themselves effective infantry killers.  Open Source media has demonstrated, how at risk Russian infantry can be when engaged by smart operators deploying high explosive grenades, mortar bombs and thermite incendiary canisters. There is open sourced video showing attacking trench systems horizontally by flying the suicide drone right into trench systems and fortified bunkers for effect


Image RKG-3 Courtesy of Former East German Government


Light Drone Ordinance

All the grenades dropped by drones are modified or jury rigged, making them hazardous to handle

  • German-supplied DM51, an explosive that, with stabilizing fins attached-is claimed to be the best anti personnel grenade
  • Also used are various grenades from around the world, including Germany, France and the USA
  • The M433, a USA made grenade is able to punch through armor (Japan Times, 2023)
  • Ukrainian Bomb workshops are repurposing obsolete Soviet-era RKG-3 anti-tank grenades with 3D printed tail fins attached to stabilize their fall from drones

Image of Ukrainian soldier modifying ordinance for drone weaponization-courtesy of New York Times


Incendiary Ordinance

  • Russian-made ZMG-1 thermite grenade, is being used by Ukrainian troops for anti-personnel  and anti-armor purposes
  • These grenades are highly effective destroying any target which provides enough fuel to sustain a fire, as the thermite continues to burn
  • There are videos showing what is said to be Ukraine troops dropping thermite grenades on Russian soldiers, this is very effective and gruesome
  • The use of incendiary devices is not prohibited between combatants, however is it is a war crime to use these devices indiscriminately against civilian populations


Hors De Combat-Drone Operators Breaking Geneva Convention

  • Unfortunately many online videos show Ukrainian drone soldiers killing incapacitated Russian soldiers by dropping grenades and incendiary devices on them
  • This is a war crime and drone soldiers both Russian & Ukrainian, should be familiar with the Geneva Convention


Practice relating to Rule 47.

Attacks against Persons Hors de Combat

Section A. General

  1. Treaties

Geneva Conventions (1949)

Pursuant to common Article 3(1) of the 1949 Geneva Conventions,

[p]ersons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely

Additional Protocol I

Article 41(1) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I provides: “A person who is recognized or who, in the circumstances, should be recognized to be hors de combat shall not be made the object of attack.”

(The International Committee of the Red Cross, 2023)


At Most Risk are Russian Soldiers caught

  • In open fields and roadways
  • Shell scrapes foxholes and bomb craters
  • In trench systems without overhead cover
  • In above ground shelters or wooded areas where infrared heat signatures can be located
  • In partially destroyed buildings that offer visual security but poor protection coverage, as drone operators will drop ordinance close to an open wall or damaged roof, killing through the keyhole per say
  • Trenches with bunker bays, sumps and sleeping areas can be a nightmare for trench soldiers as the bays often have poor overhead construction offering little protection for the entire bunker
  • Bunker bay openings are especially dangerous as the drone operator can often with accuracy drop the ordinance into the opening killing the trench dwellers with shrapnel and incendiary


Video Courtesy of YouTube

Armor Killers

  • The drone operator with an accurate touch can be the nemesis of armored crew, even crews with overhead turret protection
  • Drone operators often drop high explosive or incendiary devices into open hatches from above, killing the crew members inside instantly
  • Any armored crew survivors of a drone attack from above have only seconds to evacuate the tank or vehicle hull before the stockpile of ordinance inside cook off with a violent explosion, which often blows off the turret, a wounded soldier in proximity of a tank cooking off may not survive the secondary explosion
  • When the cook off does not kill surviving crew members, we often see soldiers killed by secondary drones dropping anti-personnel grenades directly on the wounded soldier


Video courtesy of YouTube

Devices of Terror

  • Video of drone attacks on infantry and armored soldiers are often are up close and personal
  • In many videos of drone attacks the fear and panic of the soldier under attack is remarkably apparent to the viewer
  • There are reports of Russian soldiers surrendering to Ukrainian drones
  • Simply hearing the sound of a drone will make an infantry or armored soldier uncomfortable, making troops unable to rest due to hypervigilance and fear




A Chinese drone for hobbyists plays a crucial role in the Russia-Ukraine-NPR.ORG-Greg Myre (2023) https://www.npr.org/2023/03/21/1164977056/a-chinese-drone-for-hobbyists-plays-a-crucial-role-in-the-russia-ukraine-war#:~:text=of%20Drones’%20program.-,The%20Ukrainian%20Air%20Force%20is%20much%20smaller%20than%20Russia’s%2C%20but,China%20are%20the%20most%20popular.

Full List of Drones Ukraine Has at Its Disposal-Newsweek-Andrew Stanton (2022) https://www.newsweek.com/full-list-drones-ukraine-has-its-disposal-1765122

Ukraine is using a Heinz 57 fleet of drones against Russia-Forbes-David Hambling (2022) https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidhambling/2022/12/20/ukraine-is-using-a-heinz-57-fleet-of-heavy-drone-bombers-against-russian-forces/?sh=4198d5c97cff

International Humanitarian Law-ICRC-Geneva Convention (2023)  https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/en/customary-ihl/v2/rule47

In a Ukraine workshop, the quest to build the perfect grenade-Japan Times-THOMAS GIBBONS-NEFF AND NATALIA YERMAK-The New York Times (2023) https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/01/08/world/ukraine-grenade/

How Ukraine uses obsolete Russian grenades to destroy Russian tanks from above-RFERL-Staff-(2023) https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-cheap-grenades-expensive-tanks/31835434.html