Ukraine continues to reduce Russian drones, but prices remain high
The exploding drones were slow, noisy and relatively easy to shoot from the sky, and Ukraine said over the New Year’s weekend its military shot down each of the roughly 80 that it did. Russia sent to this country.
“Such results have never been achieved before,” a spokesman for the Ukrainian air force said on Tuesday.
But some military experts wonder if these successes are sustainable.
Ukraine is becoming more adept at taking down drones, but there is a growing imbalance: Many of its defensive weapons such as surface-to-air missiles cost much more than drones drive. And that, according to some military experts, could benefit Moscow in the long run.
Artem Starosiek, head of Molfar, a Ukrainian consulting firm that supports the country’s war effort, estimates that it costs seven times more to shoot down a drone with a missile than it does. to launch a rocket. Some analysts say that’s the equation the Kremlin may be working on.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, in an overnight speech, warned that Russia was betting on “the exhaustion of our people, our air defense systems and our energy sector”.
Ukraine has vowed not to fear the air attack, but the attacks have been relentless.
Molfar said their team estimates that, since September, Russia has launched about 600 drones into Ukraine. The operation, which targeted infrastructure and was accompanied by multiple missile attacks, cut power, heating and water systems across Ukraine just as the country’s harsh winters began to hit, exacerbating added misery of the Russian invasion approaching its one-year anniversary.
According to experts, the Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones that Moscow has increasingly relied on since October are relatively simple and relatively inexpensive devices, while the weapons used to shoot them can be expensive. much more. Self-destructing drones can cost as little as $20,000 to produce, while the cost of firing a surface-to-air missile can range from $140,000 for a Soviet-era S-300 to $500,000 for a Soviet-era S-300. a rocket from the US NASAMS.
Since the war began in February, both sides have used drones not only for reconnaissance but also for attack. This is the first time these devices have been deployed so widely in a war in Europe. Some military experts see Ukraine as a testbed for advanced weapons and communications systems that could herald the form of war for generations to come.
The military authorities in Kiev have said little about the details of their air defense system – in keeping with the operational secrecy that has covered up much of their war planning – or about the cost, making it difficult to analysis becomes difficult.
But it is known that while Ukrainian forces have achieved some success against drones using anti-aircraft guns and even small arms fire, that has changed when the Russians conducted attacks at night. Kyiv is also heavily reliant on ground and fighter-launched missiles. Over the weekend, officials said, Ukraine has used surface-to-air missiles fired from NASAMS — for the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System — multiple times against drones.
Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at the CNA research institute, said that the Ukrainians are using “a zoo of different air defense systems” to counter the threat, including anti-missile systems. Soviet Union and NATO, each with its own cost profile.
Some Ukrainian anti-aircraft guns, such as the Gepard 2 radar-guided mobile gun system, are inexpensive compared to other Soviet and European-era defense systems being deployed. But some American-made interceptors are quite expensive compared to drones.
Even so, assessing the wisdom of shooting down a drone with a missile is not always straightforward.
George Barros, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, said he suspects that Ukraine is deploying more complex and expensive air defense systems to protect critical and sensitive infrastructure.
Mr. Starosiek noted, for example, that it costs much less to shoot down a drone than it does to repair a destroyed power plant. And then there’s the human element.
“Everybody is still alive,” he said.
Mathieu Boulegue, a consultant fellow with the Russia and Eurasian Program at Chatham House, a London-based think-tank, said Ukraine now has enough anti-aircraft weapons and ammunition to counter the threat from Russian unmanned aerial vehicle.
“The cost is negligible as long as the West continues to provide military support to Ukraine,” Boulegue said. “The problem for Kyiv is the time when they don’t have enough ammunition in the air defense system to shoot down these drones.”
Aware of the risk that Western allies could grow weary of the cost of Ukraine’s defense support – concerns heightened by the handover of leadership in the US House of Representatives to Republicans – the officials Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia’s tactics are changing.
The White House said it was aware of reports that the Kremlin and Tehran were looking to set up a joint production line for drones in Russia. In the long run, Mr. Boulegue said, that would allow Moscow to deploy more drones in attacks.
“That will put more stress on Ukraine’s air defenses,” he said.
That helps explain why Ukraine has adjusted its own tactics, in part by launching attacks on bases deep in Russian territory. The goal is to “enhance deterrence, which they hope will reduce stress on air defenses,” Boulegue said.
Now, Moscow has changed the way it uses the drones it already has on hand.
Speaking on Ukrainian radio, Yurii Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian air force, said that Russian forces are increasingly launching drones with explosives at night and at low altitudes along the Dnipro River, making them harder for Ukraine to detect.
“The target detection radar antenna will not see it if the target is flying below the antenna level,” he said.
Andrew E. Kramer, Julian E. Barnes, John Ismay and Shashank in Bengali contribution report.