This is the kind of return on investment that would cause bottom line-obsessed CEOs around the world to drool to death. According to the Ukraine drone unit Aerorozvidka, the domestically developed R18 UAV deployed in the ongoing war with Russia has already inflicted $130 million in losses of various types of enemy material, or about $670 in military assets vaporized per every dollar the craft costs to produce.
Aerorozvidka made the claim in a Reddit post published Thursday. Although unverifiable, the $130 million tally is even more eye-opening against the Aerorozvidka qualifier that not all Ukraine units using R18 have reported their mission figures – meaning the potential damage wreaked could be greater still.
The R18 went into operation in 2019 after a two-year development effort Aerorozvidka launched to help battle Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The octocopter has been a workhorse – and some claim hero – in the nation’s defense of Moscow’s invasion, and has become the icon of how scrappy Ukraine forces have managed to halt – and currently force the retreat – of a purportedly better armed and financed army.
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The destruction meted out by the UAV has to be doubly painful to Russian leaders, since the main munitions it has been dropping on Moscow’s troops have been Soviet-era RKG-3 anti-tank grenades and RKG-1600 bombs.
According to Aerorozvidka’s page on the drone, the Ukraine’s 5-kilogram R18 has a maximum flight distance of four kilometers, or 40 minutes per battery charge. It can drop its deadly payload from 100 to 300 meters up, with the astonishing accuracy of within a meter radius of the intended target when at maximum altitude. The UAV’s efficacity was enhanced by loading thermal sensors on it, which has also permitted nighttime strikes.
Aerorozvidka says the R18 costs about $40,000 per unit, meaning pretty much any Russian personnel carrier, tank, munitions dump, or other material Ukraine pilots hit with the two onboard munitions will offset the procurement price in a single go – hence the $670 : $1 destruction/production cost ratio Aerorozvidka notes.
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By way of example, Aerorozvidka says each of the 30 BMP-2 Russian tank a Ukraine R18 has destroyed or disabled cost $1 million to produce, over 20 times more than the drone’s price tag. Little wonder Aerorozvidka decided to sing an ode to the UAV’s effectiveness, backed up by the impressive (albeit unverifiable) figures.
Other R18 highlights detailed in the Aerorozvidka post include:
- It has high resistance to enemy means of radio-electronic warfare. That is, the drone can perform the mission even if radio interference is placed against it.
- The first use of the R18 during a large-scale invasion was to inflict damage on the airfield at Gostomel.
- As of September 2022, 20 crews of R18 drones are working on the front lines of the Russian-Ukrainian war, which have neutralized and damaged more than 100 units of enemy equipment.
- The drone can conduct reconnaissance, but its primary use is night-time dropping of ammunition on enemy vehicles, small fortifications, and ammunition depots.
- The drone has eight engines. This number of motors is used for greater reliability.
- The training of one R18 drone pilot lasts from two weeks to a month.