How Ukraine (likely) turned common drones into weapons


Author’s DJI mini drone. FAA registration number blurred out for privacy.

A quick diary about drone use in Ukraine. We’ve all seen the videos where a drone drops a grenade into a tank or into a group of infantry. That is shockingly easy to do. This may not be exactly how. It’s an informed speculation now that the time for using drones like this has passed.

Common and relatively inexpensive hobby grade drones such as a DJI Air 2 or other mainly Chinese drones can lift roughly their own weight. Some can lift 1.5 times their weight.  And those are camera drones meant for aerial photo/videography! Those drones weight about 500 grams. A common fragmentation grenade weighs about 500 grams according to Wikipedia. The necessary dropper mechanism that doesn’t weigh much. You’ll need a way to flip the spoon, but the Ukrainians figured that part out. I’m not speculating how for obvious reasons.

Or, to up the ante, get a larger drone and an infantry mortar bomb. Fins help stabilize things quite a bit. Same principle, just more capable. And that’s not accounting for cargo drones or modified camera drones that can lift more. Like two or three of those.

Now we get into cameras and control. There are off the shelf high definition aerial camera systems that have ranges measured in kilometers. Same with control systems. The first person view community has made these systems with reliable ranges of 10 kilometers or more. Mainly for reliability around obstacles at shorter ranges, but the capability is there. And this stuff is cheap! A few  hundred bucks for the vision and control systems necessary for DIY. Off the shelf drones have similar capabilities. The picture can be transmitted to a smartphone, tablet, or first person view goggles.

For noise, there’s no way to hear these drones over the wind or a rumbling diesel engine. If someone is talking loudly or yelling, they’re still difficult to hear. Drones have steadily become quieter to keep civilians and wildlife happy.

How come the Russians didn’t see these things? Well, the mini drone up top gets hard to spot about 200 feet away without a strobe on it. If not specifically looking for a drone, they’re good at blending in with the sky. Clouds only help this.

In summary, the Ukrainians dropping grenades onto Russian invaders from drones was fairly technically simple, and could be quickly deployed. No wonder they were quickly adapted and pressed into service. All the necessary parts already existed. They simply needed adaptation.