Innovative Russian army tankers fighting in the eastern Krasnohorivka sector deployed a T-72 tank rigged with plywood sheets, roof paneling, and a mine plow in an attempt to defeat Ukrainian drone swarms, another example of the intensification of the arms race between the Kremlin's conventional army forces and Ukrainian crowd-sourced drone pilots, combat video and news reports said.

A “turtle tank” possibly operated by one of the armored formations in Moscow's 150th Motor Rifle Division located west of the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk led a column of armored vehicles through a barrage of artillery fire, cluster munitions, and drones to reach Ukrainian forward fighting positions during battles in the first week of April, combat video from the Ukrainian joint forces command  Hortitsa showed.

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Screenshot close-up of FPV drone jamming system on the roof of the T-72 “turtle tank”

The following Russian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles were hit and sometimes exploded during the attack, but the clumsy, box-like assault tank even drove into and out of the village apparently unscathed. Ukrainian drones appeared not to attack it.

Close-up images show the roof of the tank was rigged with a 360-degree electronic jammer powered by a dedicated generator, used in the past by Russian forces to disrupt Ukrainian strike drone operation. At the end of the battle, the Russian tank trundles back to friendly lines, while at least six of the other eight vehicles that took part in the attack are left knocked out on the battlefield.

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Russian “turtle tank” advances on Ukrainian positions during combat in east Ukraine in early April. Drone video screen grab published by Ukraine's army joint forces east command Hortitsa.

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Anti-drone screens – often called “mangals or barbecues” – are used by troops on both sides to protect against FPV drone attack. Their use has multiplied across combat vehicles since late 2023 with the considerably increased numbers of  FPV drones available to frontline forces, particularly Ukrainian formations critically short of artillery ammunition due to months of delivery delays by Western allies.

The appearance of the “turtle tank” that could protect it from drone attack from almost any angle, is at the price of making the tank turret impossible to turn and leaving the tank crew totally blind to any threat save something approaching at a low angle from the front. It marks the most thorough effort by Russian soldiers to deal with Ukrainian drone swarms and seen in open sources – but far from the first.

Obsolete Russian-T62 tank dating back to the Vietnam era, covered with camouflage nets as a field-expedient anti-drone defense. The idea is that the nets will prevent the drone from contacting the tank's armor and keep the explosion from the drone's munition at a safe distance. The nets limit the tank crew's ability to see things on the battlefield and shoot at them. Undated image published by the pro-Russia Ugolok Sitha Telegram channel from the eastern Avdiivka sector

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Ukrainian drone operators interviewed by Kyiv Post estimate that any Russian armored attack moving towards a Ukrainian position will inevitably lose at least half of its combat vehicles and soldiers if attempting to cross open terrain. Russian tank and armored personnel carrier losses can rise above 90 percent in a full day of battle because immobilized vehicles are subjected to repeated follow-up FPV drone attacks until set on fire.

Russian T-72 tank chassis fitted with protective screens backed with logs, as field-expedient anti-drone defensive systems. The logs would give reasonable safety against grenade or anti-personnel explosive typically carried by a Ukrainian FPV drone, but likely would offer little protection against an anti-armor munition. Official image published by Ukraine's Army General Staff on April 16.

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News of the ability of crowd-sourced Ukrainian FPV and bomb-dropping drones to destroy almost any Russian combat equipment appearing on the close-in battlefield has even affected conventional wisdom inside Washington’s Foreign Policy magazine. In an April 10 article, the journal estimated that currently as many as two-thirds of all Russian tanks destroyed in battle in Ukraine, are taken out by buzzing FPV drones toting a grenade, or a shaped charge warhead paid for almost exclusively by individual donations by Ukrainian citizens.

Ukrainian bomber drone operated by a pilot from the Shadow strike unit of 47th Mechanized Brigade drops a probable thermite grenade down the front hatch of an abandoned Russian T-90M tank on a battlefield near the city Avdiivka, east Ukraine. The images confirmed and geo-located independently are from video published by Shadow on April 12 from combat taking place earlier in the month. The T-90 – Russia's most advanced tank currently in the field - is equipped with  anti-drone screens, protective nets and a jammer installed on the turret designed to prevent drone attacks.

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Russian arms manufacturers have responded by deploying anti-drone jamming systems fitted to the top of valuable vehicles. Ukrainian frontline commanders have, in turn, countered this using tactics that mix artillery, minefields and FPV drones intended to immobilize Russian armor so that they can be eliminated later. Soldiers from Ukraine’s Azov Brigade fighting in the northeastern Kreminna sector captured an abandoned T-72BM3 equipped with the anti-drone EW system in an early April snatch-and-grab operation.

Unofficial upgrades spotted aboard Russian combat vehicles have shown furious experimentation by the Kremlin’s troops, including metal frames packed with logs, chain link fencing installed on all sides of the vehicle, anti-armor explosives strapped to turrets, chains hung off turret rings and side armor, and covering vehicles entirely with camouflage nets. Many of the defensive add-ons make it hard for the crew to see and engage targets.

Russian T-72 tank rigged with anti-drone screens in combat in the sector. Screen grab from Ukrainian army drone video published by Yury Butusov on April 9.

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Ukrainian drone operators commonly overcome Russian protective systems using multiple, focused attacks: the first drone will break a screen or blow a hole in netting, a follow-up drone will expand the access for subsequent strikes to achieve the kill. Video, captured during combat has shown Ukrainian drones hunting Russian infantry using similar tactics: the first drone destroys the protective door in a bunker, followed by a second drone that flies into the dugout and detonates against soldiers sheltering inside.

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