Russia on the hunt for Ukraine’s FPV drone operators who kill thousands of Russian troops

Ukrainian and Russian reliance on cheap but powerful first-person-view drones in recent months has made their pilots prime targets beyond the frontlines.

Since spring, the battlefield in Ukraine has become increasingly littered with FPV drones flown by controllers who manipulate the vehicles in real-time while wearing video game-esque goggles and operating behind the frontlines.

The drones are inexpensive to manufacture but pack a powerful punch. Ukraine has racked up successes flying cheap drones over Russian equipment such as tanks and artillery and dropping explosives that result in millions of dollars of damage and soldier losses.

A Ukrainian drone pilot set a 22 km record in October for the distance to destroy a Russian tank, according to The Economist, operating from 18 km behind the front-line. The pilot’s commander told the outlet that the Russians have implemented a 10 km “no-tank zone” behind the front to better protect the equipment.

The 93d brigade wanted to oblige. Vladyslav Ovcharenko, callsign “Tourist,” had an idea: attach a munition to a racing drone bought online.

Donning goggles, he sped the drone kilometers away to a Russian-controlled village. Picking up speed, it slammed inside the blue doors of a hut with soldiers inside. Plumes of smoke followed; back at base, the Ukrainians cheered: they had turned a munition into a flying remote attack weapon.

And just like that, in July 2022, the FPV military drone revolution was conceived. This technology now defines the battlefield in Ukraine, making old doctrines obsolete. It led to the failure of Ukraine’s 2023 counteroffensive: western demining machines now last only hours due to swarms of Russian drones. While Ukraine initially led in FPV technology, Russia is scaling up drone production. The outcome of the war depends on who innovates faster.

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