Cheap kamikaze FPV drones, the kind more typically used by photography and racing enthusiasts, are now one of Ukraine’s most valued weapons against the Russian invasion.
In a report by The Times of London, a reporter visiting the Donbas region, Ukraine’s front line, spoke to a 25-year-old Ukraine drone pilot called Pelaheya who is specialized in taking out tanks, armored personnel carriers, bunkers, and sometimes infantrymen.
According to the report, this was not happening a year ago when DJI Mavic 2s were employed to provide reconnaissance and drop the occasional bomb. Described as a “dark omen to the future of robotic warfare and an ingenious invention for the needs of the moment,” the killer FPV drone is cost-effective and speedy.
FPV, which stands for first-person view, derives its name from the special set of goggles the pilots wear that allows them to control the drone in a way akin to a video game. Multiple clips posted online highlight the skill of the FPV pilots by grimly taking the lives of men fleeing for their lives.
“We are all human beings, but for me, enemy soldiers are not just a legitimate target and professional target: they are targets that excite me,” a drone pilot in the 54th Brigade tells The Times of London, in a sure sign that the war in Ukraine is a fight to the death. “Destroying them does not involve moral doubt, it gives me moral satisfaction.”
FPV drones are such an ingenious solution that President Zelensky announced plans to acquire a million of them this year, enlisting 200 Ukrainian companies to manufacture the kamikaze drones and proposing that civilians start making them at home. The “People’s Drone” project was launched on January 13 and participants can take a free engineering course to learn how to assemble a 7-inch FPV drone in their home.
Ukraine needs a large volume of FPV drones because of their irretrievable nature: the devices cannot be recovered once deployed. Moreover, many FPV missions are thwarted with maybe only half reaching their target.
“You usually need at least two FPVs to destroy a tank or BTR [tracked vehicle],” an experienced Ukraine drone pilot who has taken out 32 Russian armored vehicles tells The Times of London. “The first FPV to immobilize it, then the second, or more, to finish it.”
The war in Ukraine, which has come to something of a stalemate after Ukraine’s counter-offensive didn’t gain much ground, is in constant evolution with drones being redesigned and tweaked. The conflict has made clear that what happens in the cosumer drone market has implications in the battlefield.