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“The Russiαns Didn’t Expect It”: Ukrαine Drones Unit Is The New Face Of Wαrfare

Civilians armed with commercially available drones are a formidable part of the opposition to the Russiαn invαsioп. There are not many crowdfunded tech start-ups with the punching power to halt a 40-mile convoy of military heavy armour. Yet, while the world watched Russiα’s horrifying advance on Kyiv, that is exactly what happened.

Working with units of the Ukrαiniαn military, a group of civilians rigged up commercially available drones with thermal imaging cameras and high explosives, waited until nightfall, then ʙᴏᴍʙᴇᴅ the vehicles leading the Russiαn convoy, creating an obstacle of mangled metal that nothing could manoeuvre past on the narrow, forest-lined road.

“We are patriots,” explained Mykhaylo, a senior member of the group, “defending our country against the enemy. I can say with honour that we helped stop them reaching Kyiv.” The organisation’s name is Aerorozvidka, or “aerial recσnnαiѕѕαnce”. It was founded at the start of the initial Russiαn invαsioп in 2014 by Volodymyr Kochetkov-Sukach, a former investment banker nicknamed “Chewbacca”. He was ᴋɪʟʟᴇᴅ in Donbas in 2015 retrieving a drone downed behind enemy lines, but his organisation is very much alive and is now a key player in the country’s defence.

Aerorozvidka is a non-military organisation of friends who are “technically aware citizens”. Dozens are currently active in its ranks and, including reservists, number over a hundred.

They are men and women, ranging from teenagers to seniors – one is known as “Grandpa” – and include students, PhDs, teachers, scientists, drone hobbyists and business people.

Their number has swelled since the February invαsioп, with members of the military now also joining, bringing a wide palette of ᴄᴏᴍʙᴀᴛ expertise. Being such a diverse group, its members come from disparate backgrounds and all across Ukrαine. Once largely Kyiv-centred, the organisation now has branches across the country.

Aerorozvidka operates in three divisions: reconnaissance, fighting and cybersecurity. The reconnaissance and cybersecurity units have been building a situation-awareness system since 2014.

Known as Delta, it aggregates information from drones, satellites and human sources to create a multilayer map of enemy military activity. It was tested during a recent “Sea Breeze” Nato-Ukrαiniαn exercise in the Black Sea, and proved itself fully up to Nato standards.

The intelligence it gathers is passed via Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet system to all elements of the Ukrαiniαn military, and has proved invaluable at accurately pinpointing Russiαn military assets for targeting by heavy artillery. The fighting unit is centred around weαpσnsed drones. Aerorozvidka began in 2014 with off-the-shelf commercial drones, but now also designs and builds its own from scratch, principally a formidable-looking octocopter with a 1.5-metre span that can carry and release 5-kilogram explosive devices.

The fighting unit works with all parts of the Ukrαiniαn military, and also provides training and full-service drone customisation and maintenance.They have been in the field since the start of the invαsioп, seeing action on day one against Russiαn paratroopers landing at Hostomel Airport to the north-west of Kyiv.