Thoughts on drones

How Russia is using Iranian killer drones to spread terror in Ukraine | PBS NewsHour.

War is not only about doing the maximum damage, but also a trade-off of the risk vs. the reward. When Ukraine’s air defenses did not allow Russia to achieve air superiority without risking its expensive planes, they turned to drones. Aircraft are basically airborne artillery pieces which can also be used for recalescence and drones can be used for the same function.

Most of Ukraine’s drones are Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones, which fire missiles the and US made Switchblades which are expensive and reusable, but Russia has begun using Iran’s Shahed-136 drones. These diminutive unmanned “aircraft” carry a payload of 80-100 pounds (as compared to the 1,000 pound payload of the typical missel) and have a range of up to 1,500 miles.

The Shahad-136 drones only cost about $20K each while the Russian Kalibr cruise missiles cost about $1M (or 50 drones for each cruise missile). While they are slow and noisy, they apparently can be precise enough to target the portion of a howitzer where the ammunition is stored and pack a punch strong enough to do some serious damage to infrastructure.

There has been speculation threat Russia is running low on their sophisticated/expensive cruise missiles, but the same speculation was floating around last May, so that’s still conjecture. What is clear is that Russia has an extremely worthwhile trade-off using these “kamikaze” drones because, not only are the targets far more costly than the drone, but, if intercepted by Ukrainian aircraft, even the missiles used to shoot them down cost far more than the drones.

While the occasional civilian building is being hit - highlighted by the Western media - by these drones, their main mission currently seems to be damaging the Ukrainian electric grid (and incidentally water supply by shutting power to pumps) and it’s possibly that the buildings are being hit by errant drones or some by those which had been disrupted by anti-aircraft efforts. Russia seems to be following a “scorched earth” policy when they are pushed back by Ukraine’s troops and it seems like they are projecting their power in a way which will make it difficult for Ukraine’s urban population to continue to live in the cities over the winter by destroying infrastructure rather than bombing the population.

There is speculation that Iran cannot produce drones as quickly as Russia is blowing through them, so this effort is likely not sustainable at this rate, but it likely takes longer to build generator facilities than to replenish drones.

One thing is certain, the strategy of future wars will be modified significantly based on the experience that militaries are collecting during this war.



What progress is being made on drone-killer weapons? Don’t current surface-to-air missiles work against drones?


I’d say the Shahed-136 behaves more like a slow, small and cheap cruise missile. It’s a fire-and-forget device, flying to a pre-programmed destination. Media seems to like to paint picture of something that circles in an area, searching for a target, but I’ve yet to see any evidence or example of this. It uses inertial and possibly GPS guidance, but seemingly lacks target acquisition or additional terminal guidance.

Russia uses these to strike against residential areas and critical infrastructure. This is consistent with their pattern of prioritizing psychological terror over meaningful military effect. The indiscriminate carpeting of Kharkiv with cluster munitions earlier in the war is one example of bombing the population.

I speculate the current targeting of electrical infrastructure is partly aimed at Europe - to add fuel and uncertainty to the energy crisis.


Assuming the drone is flying at a high enough altitude that the air defense radar can pick it up, while the general answer is yes, the missile used to shoot it down would cost at leasst an order of magnitude more than the drone (though probably not the drone’s target) and would use up a valuable resource which could be used to shoot down a fighter or bomber if it wasn’t expended on the drone.


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Wendy, Jeff,

Heard a blurb on NPR we have the technology to give Ukraine but it is in the pipeline as in somewhat delayed as in this sucks timing wise.

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They work fine, and regular anti-aircraft weapons (like the Gephard) work fine too. The Iranian drones are slow and noisy and not hard to detect. Problem is Russia is using these against civilian targets deep behind combat lines, so you need lots and lots of AA to counter them.

This reminds of Neal Stephenson’s book “The Diamond Age”. I won’t attempt to recap the plot, but it takes place in the future when nanotechnology is well developed. Various manufacturers produce vast numbers of microscopic drones called “mites” that have a variety of functions. Occasionally, a war will break out between manufacturers and the resulting black clouds of dead mites are called toner or toner wars.

Seems to be the way things are headed.


Don’t wanna be the downer, but here’s a thought provoking short if anyone want thoughts on drones and where we might be headed (warning: fictional, but slightly graphic/disturbing):


As Jules Verne and Dick Tracy were eventually shown to have predicted the future, I suspect Neal Stephenson will, one day, be shown to have predicted the future as well (in numerous respects).


Bullets are cheaper than drones. They are not used. There are other structural reasons. The counter purposes in our constitution highlight the needs for power structures.

But that drone technology not only exists but in a smaller package and will be used on Putin if he uses a nuclear weapon. We can not allow any dictator to decide to use nuclear weapons unchecked. Sanctions and words wont do.

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Seems it would be simpler, rather than trying to cover every potential target in Ukraine, to array the AA along the front where the drones are coming from.

What sort of AA? Targets are slow and low. I’m thinking a variation of the USN Phalanx. I don’t find a service ceiling number for the Iranian drones, but did find the speed: 115mph. They could easily be shot down by a cheap, turboprop, COIN aircraft, like an A29. Hitting a drone with the machine guns on the A29 might be a challenge. I would go the blunderbuss approach with the flechette rockets used in Nam, fired from aircraft or ground. Decades ago, I saw a film clip of flechettes fired from a helo at some crates. Each crate caught about half a dozen flechettes.

Ah, the net is a wonderful thing. Here is the film I saw all those years ago. The flechette action starts around the 2:15 mark.

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While the range is only 1-9km, these might work well:


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Dick Tracy was very big on ‘anti-gravity’ ships. Not so prescient on that.

Yet :slight_smile: ooooooooooooooooooooooo

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