Ukraine drones emerge as critical battlefield weapons

Frontline air defense systems are making it difficult for either side to effectively deploy warplanes. Instead, they have turned to drones for both reconnaissance and attacks. Ukraine is now taking this strategy a step further by producing its own fleet of drones. It has relied on foreign imports up to this point.

An NHK crew was allowed to visit a Ukrainian military facility on the condition that it would not disclose the location.

Soldiers there were testing a large drone designed to destroy tanks. Instead of a live shell, it was equipped with a 10-kilogram dumbbell. A Ukrainian soldier said, "We can use drones to gather information and inflict damage on our enemies. They are effective everywhere -- in towns, forests and open fields."

One reason Ukraine is developing its own drones is the low cost. Some can be produced for just 500 dollars.

The military was previously using many Chinese-made models. But Russia was buying drones from the same maker. Ukraine became concerned that Russia would be able to intercept its communications and locate its military bases.

A Ukrainian commander said, "With our own drones, we can quickly change the communications frequency and dispatch them to the frontline."

In Russia, the police have launched a special unit tasked with preventing drone attacks. The country is also using the devices to attack Ukraine. The United States says Russia has purchased more than 400 drones from Iran since last August.

Takahashi Sugio from the National Institute for Defense Studies said, "I believe this is the first war in which private sector devices have been mobilized and used on the battlefield on a large scale." Takahashi added, "They're used for reconnaissance and are treated like any other expendable supply. The average lifespan of drones on the battlefield is believed to be about 7 days."

Drones could be used to supplement the Western-supplied arsenal that Takahashi says Ukraine will use in its expected counteroffensive.

He says these weapons could prove to be decisive on the battlefield.