Russia’s Ukraine drone shortage darkens Moscow’s war prospects

Russia Ukraine drones

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a nightmarish reminder since the beginning to be very careful what one wishes for, but new evidence suggests the outlook for Moscow may be getting darker yet. As previously reported by DroneDJ, mass buying of consumer drones in Russia for the Ukraine war that had diminished supplies has reportedly now gotten even worse – and is even being matched by a penury of craft and replacement parts for military-grade UAVs.

The latest flurry of bad news for Russia in Ukraine came in a series of tweets by the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD), which both deepened and added dimension to DroneDJ’s story in June about Russian stocks of consumer drones nearing exhaustion as craft were bought and shipped to frontline troops. In its Twitter posts, the MoD indicated that situation has grown even tighter under the effects of international sanctions, and is now also sapping the numbers of military-grade UAVs Moscow has – as well as supplies needed to get damaged craft aloft again.

Read moreMoves afoot to create Russia’s first ‘mass produced’ commercial drone 

That word came amid news of considerable Ukraine success against an increased campaign of Russian drone sorties at the end of August, with defense forces said to have shot down three Russian Orlan-10 UAVs in just one day. Those compounding aerial losses, combined with depleted stocks of consumer drones and replacement parts, is creating what the MoD described as serious strategic problems for Russian armed forces.

“In recent years, Russian doctrine has given an increasingly prominent role for UAVs, particularly to spot targets for its artillery to strike,” the MoD tweeted. “In the face of combat losses, it is likely that Russia is struggling to maintain stocks of UAVs, exacerbated by component shortages resulting from international sanctions… The limited availability of reconnaissance UAVs is likely degrading commanders’ tactical situational awareness and increasingly hampering Russian operations.”

As always in the current war sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, information flowing from it ­– especially when it comes to the unexpectedly outsize performance of drones ­– is often conveyed within subjective framing (otherwise known as spin, if not propaganda). Indeed, in addition to their game-changing deployment of all sorts of UAVs in defense of the nation, Ukraine forces have proven themselves masters of mercilessly trolling Russian troops and their leaders – usually with brutal humor – on the war’s communication front.

Read moreUkraine drone drops grenade on Russian doing ‘number two’ 

Be that as it may, tangential information appears to support the MoD’s view that Russia’s war effort in Ukraine isn’t going well, and may become even more dire as its supply of drones continues decreasing. 

Reports elsewhere have indicated Moscow has lost nearly 880 UAVs since the invasion began, in addition to over 50,500 soldiers (350 of whom were said to have been killed on Monday alone). Activity in Ukraine’s skies doesn’t look likely to improve for Russia anytime soon, due to various reactions to its invasion – virtually all of which have similarly negative effects on Moscow’s drone supplies. 

For example, when DJI decided in April to halt sales of its products in both countries as a means of reducing their use in fighting, the move had quick and considerable consequences on Russian repurposing of consumer craft, but almost none on Ukraine deployment. That’s because in stark contrast to embargo-constrained Russia, Ukraine has received tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of craft – made by DJI and other manufacturers – from supporters abroad. 

ReadUkraine’s Army of Drones expands pilot training as UAV fleets grow 

Indeed, even as Russia’s fleets dwindle, Ukraine is advancing in its efforts to create what leaders call an Army of Drones.

In the face of their own worsening shortages, Russian commanders are said to be turning to Iran and North Korea to supplement their dwindling reserve of military-grade UAVs. According to several recent reports, however, Moscow has encountered serious problems operating those aerial assets from Tehran.

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