Commentary: Russia can increase use of ‘kamikaze’ drones, but it still won’t win them the war


The low cost of these kamikaze drones means Russia can potentially conduct larger scale, mass swarming attacks against Ukraine, tying up and potentially overwhelming air defences in the hopes that a small number out of a massed drone swarm manages to get through the defences to hit its target.

And even without hitting its targets, their regular presence over Ukrainian cities far from the frontline puts further psychological strain on these cities, sowing terror amongst the residents.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has already warned that Russia has bought 2,400 more Iranian drones, further raising the spectre of mass attacks. 

Looking at the wider picture, kamikaze drones are another key technology that is changing the face of war since their first widespread use during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, when even more advanced kamikaze drones supplied by Israel in the hands of Azerbaijan wrought havoc among their opponents.

It enables countries, and even non-state actors with lesser resources, to attack targets far behind frontlines that used to be able to be reached with strike aircraft or long-range missiles, which are more expensive to acquire.

These relatively cheap systems with the ability to loiter for long periods over the battlefield waiting for the right time and right target to strike will be a key capability for militaries going forward.

Air defences will either have to grow in numbers to counter them or stomach the asymmetrical cost differential of having to use a multi-million-dollar missile against a kamikaze drone costing at best a few hundred thousand dollars.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for US-based defence publication Defense News. He is based in Melbourne.

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