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Can drones win a war? A comprehensive analysis amidst the Ukraine-Russia war


In the midst of the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict/war, a pressing question looms: can drones emerge victorious in warfare? This question gains prominence due to the pivotal role drones play in the modern military landscape. Ukraine’s persistent drone attacks on Russian territory, specifically targeting Moscow, have become almost a daily occurrence. Yet, many of these drone strikes appear to lack a clearly defined military objective, often resulting in minimal casualties or damage. Russian air defenses routinely intercept these drones, prompting us to delve deeper into the rationale behind Ukraine’s relentless drone warfare against Russia. This article endeavors to explore the multifaceted facets of this intriguing topic.

Psychological warfare: A vital element
One of the key facets of Ukraine’s drone strategy is psychological warfare. Its primary aim is to inflict harm upon highly symbolic Russian targets, a tactic that experts argue significantly bolsters the morale of Ukraine’s beleaguered military and population. The ability to retaliate, even with limited offensive capabilities, bears historical testament to the psychological impact that often transcends the physical realm.

A notable incident that garnered global attention was the alleged drone strike on the Kremlin in May. Initially perceived as an assassination attempt on Russian President Vladimir Putin, some analysts raised the possibility that it might have been an inside operation intended to galvanize Russia’s population for war. In Ukraine, these attacks serve as a testament to the nation’s offensive capabilities, albeit on a relatively modest scale. They send a resounding message that Ukraine is not merely a passive victim but can also strike back.

Conversely, Russia faces its own set of psychological challenges when Ukraine conducts drone strikes deep within its territory. The intention is to expose the vulnerability of Russian air defenses and the regime’s inability to safeguard its citizens in the heart of Russia. Significant attacks have targeted landmarks like the Moscow City building, often coinciding with crucial events or meetings involving President Putin. This growing insecurity has given rise to speculations, now confirmed by Ukrainian officials, that drones are being launched from within Russian territory.

Nevertheless, there exist technical constraints to consider. Smaller drones often have limited ranges, with some having as short as a 65-kilometer reach. Despite these limitations, they have managed to hit targets deep within Russia. This raises questions regarding the presence of either sympathetic Russians within Russia or the possibility that Kyiv is dispatching teams into Russia to carry out these drone missions.

Potential risks of Kyiv’s drone strategy
While Kyiv’s drone strategy serves diverse purposes, it also carries substantial risks. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has repeatedly faced accusations of “terror bombing” Ukrainian civilians as a means to break their resolve. Understandably, there is an emotional desire to retaliate, but concerns exist about potential repercussions. If Russian civilians were inadvertently harmed in these drone attacks, it could undermine Ukraine’s moral high ground in the conflict. Some even argue that, conceptually, these attacks might be classified as terrorism, a label that President Putin has already applied to them.

Putin has long portrayed Ukraine as a malevolent state and has condemned the drone strikes as a “clear sign of terrorist activity.” In this sense, they might prove counterproductive to Ukraine’s objectives.

Impact on military capability
Another dimension of Kyiv’s drone strikes is their impact on Russia’s military capability. Ukraine lacks the same airpower as Russia, making drones an attractive option for achieving a degree of parity. Drones are cost-effective compared to traditional missiles and have managed to inflict notable damage on Russian military assets.

For instance, in August, Ukrainian drone strikes destroyed four military aircraft, marking one of the most significant attacks since the conflict began. In the previous year, an airstrike by Kyiv took out ten warplanes in Crimea, an incident initially blamed on a discarded cigarette by a Russian soldier.

However, there exist limitations in assessing the military effectiveness of these strikes. The public often hears about successful attacks, while failures remain largely unreported. From a purely military perspective, these drone strikes might not substantially alter the course of the conflict. Nevertheless, they serve to demonstrate Ukraine’s value to Western investors and backers.

The exlusive count of Ukrainian drone attacks
The exact number of Ukrainian drones that have targeted Russia remains unknown, with both sides guarding this information closely. Recent reports indicate more than 190 suspected attacks this year in Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula. Some speculate that Kyiv’s drone warfare could be a tactic to divert attention from a potentially faltering counteroffensive. However, experts like Peter Lee argue against this notion, asserting that even if Ukraine’s offensive operations were progressing well, drone strikes would still occur. They form part of the attritional struggle inherent in modern warfare.

The broader question: Can drones win a war?
In conclusion, the ongoing drone warfare between Ukraine and Russia raises fundamental questions about the role of drones in modern conflicts. While they can have a significant psychological impact and diminish the military capacity of the adversary, they also carry substantial risks. The ultimate question remains: can drones win a war? The answer is complex, contingent on numerous variables and uncertainties. In the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict, all parties must tread carefully to avoid further disrupting the delicate geopolitical balance.

The use of drones in warfare underscores the evolving nature of modern warfare, where psychological warfare and asymmetric tactics can play a pivotal role. In this context, the strategic significance of drones continues to evolve, and their impact on the outcome of conflicts remains a topic of keen interest and debate.

Ukraine’s maritime drone threat
Amidst this complex backdrop, another emerging threat has surfaced in the form of Ukraine’s unmanned maritime Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs). These maritime drones have repeatedly attempted to attack Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, stationed in Crimea’s Sevastopol, sparking alarm among Russian navy officers.

The concerns revolve around the USVs’ attributes, including their speed, low visibility, and maneuverability, which continue to pose a significant threat. The most recent attack on April 24 marked the third such attempt, this time involving only two USVs

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