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History of drones and their role in modern warfare

History of drones and their role in modern warfare History of drones (photo: Getty Images)

Military volunteer Maria Berlinska once said that the war would be won by the country with the most drones. The role of these devices in modern military confrontations cannot be overestimated, as they are capable of destroying the enemy at great distances while preserving the personnel of their army.

RBC-Ukraine tells about when and how drones appeared and what their role is in modern warfare.

When and how drones appeared

The first use of aerial drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in warfare in human history is considered to be the case when Austrian troops in 1849, besieging Venice, decided to drop bombs from balloons without people on board. Such devices were highly dependent on the wind direction, so in practice, they were not very effective.

At the time, it had more psychological pressure on the city's defenders. In the end, the Austrians managed to conquer Venice, although the first UAVs did not play a key role in this.

The next wave of UAV development came during the First World War. The British Archibald Lowe developed a device that was somewhat similar to biplanes. It could be controlled by radio. The inventor was also working on a model that could carry explosives, but since the war was already ending at that time, no money was allocated for this project and it was curtailed.

In the interwar years, the British were able to build radio-controlled airplanes, which they called "Queen Bees." The Americans spied on this technology and began to develop their own. They began to call their devices "drones," which means a male bee. This name was a kind of reference to the Queen Bee.

During the Second World War, drones were actively used at the front, and during the Cold War, they were used for reconnaissance. The USSR also had its own developments, but they were not used in practice.

History of drones and their role in modern warfareLast preparations before the first tactical UAV flight through the Suez Canal, 1969 (photo: Wikipedia)

Already in the 1970s, they began to produce kamikaze drones that flew up to a target and exploded with it. Modern Shaheds, which Russia is now launching at Ukraine, work by analogy.

Today, drone technology is rapidly evolving and being modified. One of the most iconic drones in the Russian-Ukrainian war is the Turkish Bayraktar, which helped to deter the occupiers at the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

History of drones and their role in modern warfareTurkish Bayraktar (photo: Wikipedia)

History of drones and their role in modern warfareThe remains of Shahed 136 at Kyiv Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Expertise (photo: Wikipedia)

What drones are produced in Ukraine

In Ukraine, almost 100 companies manufacture drones for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 40 domestic drones have passed the commissioning procedure and companies are receiving government contracts.

For example, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are actively using the Hor reconnaissance UAV, designed to reconnoiter and adjust artillery at altitudes of up to 3,500 meters. The complex with three aircraft and a ground station costs $250,000. 28 systems have already been manufactured.

Ukrainian soldiers with drones (photo: Getty Images)

The SHARK reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle, developed in 2022 to monitor and adjust fire, is also widely used at the front.

In the summer of 2023, the Ukrainian kamikaze drone Bober was deployed. It was this drone that was repeatedly spotted in attacks on Moscow.

History of drones and their role in modern warfareUkrainian drone Leleka-100 (photo: Wikipedia)

In November 2023, it became known that a new version of the Leleka-100 reconnaissance vehicle, which was developed in 2017, would be released. The new Leleka LR model will have a range of up to 90 km and improved resistance to electronic warfare.

The PD-2 is also actively used in the Russian-Ukrainian war. This is a Ukrainian multi-purpose UAV designed for aerial reconnaissance and combat use as a bomb carrier with a warhead weighing up to 3 kg.

What is the role of drones in modern warfare?
Many experts call the Russian-Ukrainian war a "drone war." The further course of hostilities will depend on how these technologies develop.

Oleksandr Kovalenko, a military and political observer at the Information Resistance group, told RBC-Ukraine that Russia is having problems with the production of high-tech equipment, and the Russians are forced to look for workarounds. At the same time, Ukraine has a good school, and with access to the achievements of its allies, it is likely to continue to make progress.

At the same time, the effectiveness of drones may be significantly reduced due to the development of electronic warfare (EW).

"But there are drones with artificial intelligence that guide them to the target when they lose communication and control. There are models that are more resistant to interference," he said.

As a reminder, on the night of November 25, Russia launched its largest drone attack on Kyiv. Ukrainian air defense forces destroyed 66 aerial targets in the capital and the region.