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Ukrαine’s Drone Strikes Reveal Russian Planning Failures

Videos of their exploits have millions of views. They’ve ᴅᴇsᴛʀᴏʏᴇᴅ surface-to-air missile launchers and logistics trains. They’ve inspired songs and are a common refrain in videos taunting the Russiαn invaders.

Despite their small number — around 20, according to pre-war comments made to Al-Monitor — the drones have been heavily utilized, according to Ukrαiniαn officials. Russiα, on the other hand, claims it has shot down some of the drones.

According to Stijin Mitzer, an open-source intelligence analyst, the small Turkish-made drones have ᴅᴇsᴛʀᴏʏᴇᴅ at least 32 Russiαn vehicles since war broke out last week, though it’s impossible to independently confirm the total number of vehicles they’ve ᴅᴇsᴛʀᴏʏᴇᴅ.

An expert on Russiαn drone warfare, Samuel Bendett of the CNA think tank, explained to Military Times that even the drones’ limited successes show that Russiα is failing to implement its own air defense strategies. He added that Russiα studied the lessons learned by Armenia in last year’s war with Azerbaijan, which saw the latter nation decimate Armenian positions and vehicles with Bayraktar drones and loitering munitions.Perhaps the “biggest lesson” of that conflict, Bendett said, was that slow, low flying drones like the Bayraktar are effective against outdated air defense systems. Russiαn planners were confident that their force structure, which prioritizes modernized, layered air defense, would be able to prevent such a massacre — but “we’re not seeing…what Russiαns have advertised,” Bendett said.

Russiαn units are usually arrayed in battalion tactical groups, BTGs, with layered air defense and anti-drone capacity, said Bendett. But the forward elements of Russiαn forces have failed to operate as BTGs in Ukrαine, frequently leaving behind their air defense assets “in inexplicable fashion,” he added.

“[In Ukrαine], Russiα doesn’t seem to display the very tactics, techniques and procedures that it’s practiced for years and sought to perfect in Syria…[to provide] adequate cover to its ground forces,” he said.

Bendett also pointed towards “the mythology of the Bayraktar” and how “Ukrαine is winning the information war.”

“For all the Russiαn military talk about winning information war, they seem to be losing, and the videos of Bayraktars striking what appears to be Russiαn targets is feeding into that [Ukrαiniαn] information campaign,” he said.“If the Russiαn military reorganizes — if it sends in the BTGs, if it sends in adequate air defense capability, if it sends in its [electronic warfare] forces…it would become increasingly more difficult for Bayraktars to operate in an uncontested fashion,” said the drone expert. “They were definitely aware of the threat. They definitely practiced against the threat.”

And even should the Russiαns recover and counter the drone threat, he noted, “they were supposed to eliminate a lot of Ukrαiniαn air defense capability from the…first hours of the campaign.” That includes the air bases where the drones are stored, fueled and equipped.