In what represents yet another unexpected consequence of a war Moscow incorrectly believed would be a quick walk in the park, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is provoking the depletion of the nation’s supply of commercial drones, and sparking a correspondingly steep rise in prices for those that remain.
According to a report today in the business daily Kommersant, consumer and enterprise retailers in Russia say reserves of commercial drones have dwindled amid mass purchases of UAVs being sent to Russian troops and their allies in Ukraine. Aggravating the supply and demand imbalance was the April decision by DJI – whose craft typically make up 90% of all sales in Russia – to halt business in both countries following controversy over how its products were reportedly being used by combatants.
The upshot, say Russian dealers, is that prices for commercial drones have at least doubled, with UAVs frequently used for enterprise operation having tripled. Business users will face additional complications, industry leaders add, as life of aging high-capacity batteries reaches an end with few options for replacing them available.
The primary recipients of that flow of commercial drone purchases are Russian forces and allied separatist militias in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. The procurement of consumer craft for warzone use by both private donors and state actors in support of Moscow’s invasion replicates moves by Western individuals and companies that have fueled a large and continuing flow of UAVs to Ukraine.
The difference in that activity, however, is with Russia under an increasingly crippling embargo, its flagging reserves of commercial drones can’t easily be replenished, while stocks of those pulsing into Ukraine from Europe and the US are virtually unlimited. Making things worse, Russian repurposing and deployment of those UAV for military missions has ranged from mediocre to lame, while Ukraine effectiveness has frequently been spectacular.
Worse still for backers of Moscow’s offensive, the utility of remaining UAVs in Russia will continue declining now that the most effective, tech-bristling models of commercial drones have already been snapped up and sent to Ukraine.
“They do not have sufficient payload, flight range, battery capacity,” an unidentified Russian retailer told Kommersant of remaining drone, adding that even before the run on commercial drones for use in Ukraine, the selection of UAVs sold in the country had been limited by national restrictions on using certain radio frequencies.
According to other experts cited in the report, the mass purchase of consumer drones for re-export to Ukraine has virtually exhausted retailer supplies in Moscow, leading buyers to switch their searches to provincial cities with smaller reserves.