Drones have been heavily used in by the Ukrainian defense forces to push back against the Russian invasion. One pilot explains that they have recently had to change their strategy to prevent Russians from tracking their movements with DJI technology.
In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, a Ukrainian soldier named Volodymyr Demchenko explains how he and others from Ukraine are using drones to target Russian soldiers. Local hobbyists and video game enthusiasts have been helping the Ukrainian military using drones for some time. Earlier this year, the military even put out a call for drone pilots because the intelligence they are able to gather from the sky is so valuable to the war effort.
But Demchenko says in recent weeks it has become harder and more dangerous for Ukrainian drone pilots as DJI has given the Russians the tools it needs to fight back.
“We are using Chinese drones, and the Chinese give Russians a program that can search us,” he tells CNN. “Russians see from where we are starting and where we are landing and once it happened to us, we were attacked like right away. The drone was landing and the next, like in 30 seconds, a mine was like really close, like 30 meters away.”
Because of this, the pilots have changed their strategy and rarely land their drones right next to their position and will wait a while before going to retrieve them.
The tracking program Demchenko is referring to is called DJI AeroScope. AeroScope has been the center of controversy on the war front as Ukraine has repeatedly asserted that the Chinese company was intentionally limiting the capabilities of AeroScope by the Ukrainian army.
“These reports are false,” Adam Linsberg, the DJI North America Corporate Communication Director, said in March. “We are aware of problems with some AeroScope units in Ukraine; they may be connected to prolonged loss of power/internet. But there is no deliberate action to downgrade AeroScope there.”
— DJI (@DJIGlobal) March 16, 2022
DJI corporate has also repeatedly denied these claims and recently went so far as to cease sales of its drones to both Russia and Ukraine in order to distance itself from the conflict.
Demchenko doesn’t seem to think that anything has changed on the ground in Ukraine, however. He says that there is an American drone company that he and other drone pilots would like to switch to so that the Russians would be unable to track their movements like they allegedly can now using DJI AeroScope.
According to Demchenko, the Russians know how valuable drone intelligence is to the Ukrainian defense and gives its soldiers bonuses of cigarettes to shoot them down. He says that despite this, they are largely unsuccessful since the drones are so small and difficult to hit.