Putin Ally Bemoans Ukraine’s ‘Gamers with Drones’ after Overnight FPV Raid

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Russian forces are contending with Ukrainian “gamers” using first-person-view (FPV) drones across the front line against Russian strongholds, a top Russian official has said, as uncrewed vehicles gain an ever higher profile in the 23 month-old war.

Ukrainian unmanned vehicle operators carried out a “continuous raid” on Russian positions for several days at an undisclosed location along the front line, said Dmitry Rogozin, former head of the Russian Space agency, who is now a Moscow-installed official in the annexed Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine.

“In four hours, 24 FPV drones flew to the stronghold of only one of our volunteer battalions,” he said in a post to Telegram on Tuesday.

“This is a new type of artillery—high-precision aerial art,” Rogozin added. “It will gradually replace conventional cannon and rocket artillery, since it is much more accurate and cheaper, and the recording of target hits is visible to the operators of these UAVs.”

A Ukrainian serviceman holds an FPV strike drone on the front line in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Ukraine, on October 26, 2023. Moscow’s forces are contending with Ukrainian “gamers” using first-person-view drones against Russian strongholds, a top Russian official has said.
Vitalii Nosach/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

When contacted for comment, the Ukrainian military referred Newyork Verified to its operational updates posted to social media.

In early December, Mykhailo Fedorov, Kyiv’s Minister of Digital Transformation, who is at the helm of Ukraine’s drone efforts against Russia, told Newyork Verified that FPV drones were now becoming more useful to Ukraine’s front-line fighters than artillery.

The FPV uncrewed vehicles have quickly become “a game-changer” on the Ukrainian battlefield, taking out masses of Russian hardware, Fedorov said.

“They work sometimes even more efficiently than artillery,” he commented. “So, FPV drones are indeed a tech revolution, even though the tech itself is quite easy. But it turned out to be very efficient.”

FPV drones certainly have appeared to work better in some instances than artillery for Ukraine, U.K-based drone expert, Steve Wright, told Newyork Verified last month. “In many ways, using battlefield FPV drones is a continuation of a trend, particularly by the West, of moving to more and more tight targeting of explosives,” he said.

Ukraine has maintained calls for supplies of ammunition and shells from its allies for its artillery systems, which remain a crucial capability for Kyiv. On Tuesday, NATO inked contracts to buy $1.2 billion-worth of 155mm artillery shells to replenish the alliance’s stocks after funneling shells to Ukraine.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine has become a battle for ammunition, so it is important that Allies refill their own stocks, as we continue to support Ukraine,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“Why do the Ukrainian Armed Forces need shells and artillery if they are replaced by gamers with their shells and grenades flying on high-speed drones?” Rogozin wrote on Tuesday. “We should immediately take measures to prevent the enemy from dominating the air due to the dominance of his reconnaissance UAVs and killer drones.”

“They breed and multiply, there is nowhere to hide from them,” Rogozin said in a separate post on Wednesday. “It is urgent to resolve the issue of destroying FPV drones.”

Ukraine has been amassing tens of thousands of such drones through rounds of fundraising, and upping its domestic production of them.

FPV drones are frequently used to record battlefield footage, often appearing to show Ukrainian kamikaze drone strikes on Russian military targets that is then shared by Kyiv’s military. The explosive drones are cheap, often using commercially bought parts, and can pack a punch against an enemy’s vehicles or its personnel.

“The frontline situation depends on drones,” Fedorov said. “This is a 24/7 war.”

But a Ukrainian commander said in mid-December that in terms of overall numbers, Kyiv has just one drone for every five to seven Russian FPV drones in key battleground sectors of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Russian FPV drones fly into Ukraine’s airspace and search for any targets they can find there, Yuriy Fedorenko, the commander of Ukraine’s Achilles drone company, which is within the country’s 92nd Assault Brigade, told Ukrainian media.

Although Ukraine had initially dominated FPV manufacturing in 2023, Russia has ramped up its programs and sent large numbers of the unmanned vehicles to the front lines, Samuel Bendett of the Center for Naval Analyses, a U.S. think tank, previously told Newyork Verified.

Russia’s FPV development has probably “grown exponentially,” Bendett said, although it is difficult to determine how many FPV drones are present on, and above, the battlefield.

Update 01/24/24, 10:15 a.m. ET: This article was updated with a response from the Ukrainian military.