It was a pretty substantial Russian armored attack, but that was before hobby drones toting grenades or shaped charge warheads, backed by artillery shells, cut the Kremlin tank and infantry assault to pieces – not for the first time.
Images of the battle, published by a Ukrainian drone operator unit called the Perun Group, showed more than a dozen Russian tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and tracked personnel carriers abandoned along a road and adjacent fields to the south the village Novomykhailivka near Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region, where Russian forces have launched assault after assault for months.
More from Perun group, the size and effectiveness of these massed FPV units appear to be increasing. pic.twitter.com/ietDmURVEO— dj nafo (@DjNafo67376) January 27, 2024
Other combat video and still images published by the Ukrainian military on Jan. 27 showed the Kremlin daylight attack grinding to a halt after striking a minefield. It then came under Ukrainian artillery fire, including cluster munitions, which forced the Russian troops to abandon their shattered vehicles and attempt to continue their advance on foot.
Video, geolocated to fields to the south the Novomykhailivka by Kyiv Post, showed hobby drones following up relentlessly, hunting down and dropping grenades on running Russian soldiers, and dumping explosives onto multi-million-dollar armored vehicles’ engine decks, touching off catastrophic fires. Dead soldiers sprawl by broken vehicles, wounded soldiers are hunted down by drones and killed.
The edited 1:49-second video showed 3 drones dropping grenades on running Russian soldiers, leaving some visibly wounded. FPV drones – one-way kamikaze strike aircraft – destroy two more armored personnel carriers and one tank by smashing into the abandoned armored vehicles, detonating and setting them on fire.
Video and images published by multiple sources, including the Perun Group’s parent unit the 79th Separate Air Assault Brigade, the Ukrainian army high command, independent Ukrainian media and the military watch group DeepState, among others, confirmed the images were very likely authentic. They further commented that the same scene played out at least twice in the past week; on Jan. 21 and Jan. 25.
An average of the estimates of Osint analysts put Russian army losses around the Novomykhailivka battlefield alone at 5-10 tanks, 10-20 armored fighting vehicles of all types, and 100-120 men killed or seriously wounded – every day.
Across Ukraine’s 1,600-kilometer front line, evidence is mounting that as the Kremlin has shifted once more to the offensive to try to take advantage of Ukrainian artillery ammunition shortages, its troops have met similar results to those seen in Novomykhailivka. Well-armed fighting columns approach Ukrainian lines, vehicles are stopped by mines, artillery or even heavy mud, and then soldiers leave the static broken-down vehicles on foot to come under punishing attacks by drone swarms.
According to those similar, anecdotal accounts, high value, imported Western weapons like long-range anti-tank missiles, precision-guided munitions or NATO-standard tanks have not been used in these battles. The Ukrainian military publishes evidence such as video or soldier accounts that back up some but not all claims of the levels of kills compiled from engagements across the front, and only rarely identifies the weapon systems causing the damage.
The Ukrainian group tochnyi.info reported in an analytical paper on Jan. 27 that hard evidence available – almost always drone video published to the internet – shows a large increase in drone use. In less than four weeks in January, Ukrainian small drone operators launched 533 FPV strikes against Russian troops or combat vehicles, almost double the October confirmed count. The most intense use of hobby drones, the report said, was in the eastern Donbas city of Avdiivka sector which has become Russia’s current top objective.
According to Ukrainian drone operators, most drone teams consider themselves lucky if one out of four attempted attacks actually register a hit.
In the war’s southern sector, near the city of Kherson, where Ukrainian Marines have held a bridgehead on the left bank of the Dnipro River since October, volunteer financing, including a recent collection appeal by the high-profile drone organizer Robert Brovdi reportedly brought in the equivalent of $800,000 in less than a week. This has delivered not just hundreds of attack drones to Ukrainian pilots but electronic warfare kit most NATO militaries would envy, such as drone frequency-specific jammers, signal repeaters, direction finders and even spoofers that enable a Ukrainian operator to take over a Russian attack drone, and sometimes send it back the way it came.
Ukrainian drone pilots operating along the narrow Kherson bridgehead destroy, on average, 10 or more Russian combat vehicles a day, and destroy or intercept more than 500 Russian attack drones a month, three quarters of those launched against them, Brovdi said in a Jan. 15 interview with a Kyiv television channel.
One Russian response to Ukrainian drones swarming in the Kherson air space was registered on Jan. 26 by the pro-Kremlin VDV Za Chesnost i Spravedlivost. This longstanding pro-Kremlin channel frequently comments on operations by the Russian army’s Joint Forces South, which has tried and failed to eliminate the Ukrainian bridgehead across the Dnipro.
“The enemy has just used five drones with artificial intelligence to hit the rear areas of the 70th Motor Rifle Division, near the village Krynky (where Ukrainian Marines are dug in on the left bank of the Dnipro). Our jamming was ineffective, it didn’t change the course of the drones in any way. So now drones with artificial intelligence have destroyed four of our combat vehicles. One more drone flew off to the south. Everyone be careful! Our enemy has started testing drones with artificial intelligence,” the platform said.
The next level of progress, Brovdi said, is to beef up the current handful of Ukrainian drone operating teams on the ground in the Kherson sector with hundreds of pilots and technicians. His plan is to equip that force, which is a regular Ukrainian Marine unit, by drumming up funding to purchase more electronic warfare equipment, to build or import thousands more drones. The target number for crowd-sourcing it all is about Hr. 100 million ($2.6 million) with donations already being received.
Andriy Tsaplienko, a leading Ukrainian war reporter, in a Jan. 28 Telegram post, pointed out that in some sectors Russian drone strike counts were catching up with Ukrainian capacity, thanks to Russian government support to mass production of small attack drones. Ukraine currently has a lead against Russia thanks to better skilled operators, but now Kyiv should officially step in and stop leaving the provision of the small drone air war to volunteers and crowd-sourcing.
“Ukraine’s (kill count) advantage in drones is provided by volunteers. Were the [Kyiv] government to actively participate, the results would be better,” Tsaplienko wrote in a Jan. 28 comment.
In a Jan. 29 column in the Washington Post entitled “Ukraine’s hopes for victory over Russia are slipping away,” analyst Ishaan Tharoor wrote that fighting lines in Ukraine were likely to stagnate due to Western war fatigue. Ukraine cannot prevail against Russia without billions of dollars of Western military assistance.
On the same day, Ukraine’s army general staff published drone video recorded by the 60th Mechanized Infantry Brigade “Inhulets,” a regular unit operating in the sector. The images show a Ukrainian octocopter, an agricultural aircraft frequently purchased by crowd-sourcing for $10,000 to $15,000, operating at night and locating and destroying people and vehicles attempting to hide in a wood line. The aircraft is equipped with thermal sights that allow it to see in the dark.
Kyiv Post research found the engagement most likely took place in the past week in the northeastern Kupyansk sector during a 60th Brigade counterattack.
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