France’s army chief says small drones will lose their battlefield advantage. But Ukraine likely won’t be changing tack anytime soon.

    A Ukrainian reconnaissance unit in Kharkiv Oblast.

    Global Images Ukraine/ Getty Images

    Small drones dominate Ukraine’s battlefield, but their advantage won’t last, France’s army chief said.Small, relatively cheap drones have been hugely successful weapons in the war so far.However, experts told BI that advancing countermeasures would limit small drones’ capabilities.

    Small aerial drones have dominated the battlefield in Ukraine, but according to French Army Chief of Staff Gen. Pierre Schill, they could soon lose their combat advantage.

    Speaking at the Eurosatory defense show in Paris on June 19, Schill said that their advantage represented merely “a moment in history,” Defense News reported.

    “The life of impunity of small, very simple drones over the battlefield is a snapshot in time,” Schill said.

    “Right now it’s being exploited, that’s clear, and we have to protect ourselves. Today, the sword, in the sense of the aerial drone, is powerful, more powerful than the shield. The shield is going to grow,” he added.

    The head of the French army, Pierre Schill.

    ADRIAN DENNIS/ Getty Images

    The use of drones will likely fluctuate

    Former British Army officer Christopher Lincoln-Jones told Business Insider that the use of small drones in warfare would likely “ebb and flow.”

    He said: “What will happen is that, as artificial intelligence becomes better and better and the senses become better, medium-sized drones will dominate rather than the small ones.”

    “Mini drones are limited by the fact that battery technology is not good enough for them yet. And although they can carry a small charge or weapon, they’re not really good against military targets,” Lincoln-Jones added.

    Greg Bagwell, the UK Royal Air Force’s former Deputy Commander, told BI “there is some truth” to Schill’s comments about the future of small drones in battle.

    “I think to say it’s nearly had its day, and it’s all over is probably a slight exaggeration. But I think it will get harder for them to operate as people now get wise to this threat. We’ll start to see the counters maybe begin to take a higher position,” he said.

    Small drones are at the forefront of the war in Ukraine

    Small drones, particularly first-person view drones (FPVs), have been a trademark of Russia’s war in Ukraine, with both sides weaponizing them against each other.

    FPV drones have had huge success on the battlefield so far, proving to be cheaper and more accurate than most artillery as they can be guided directly to their target.

    A NATO official told Foreign Policy magazine in April that more than two-thirds of the Russian tanks that had been destroyed by Ukraine in recent months had been targeted with FPVs.

    Ukraine has also pounded Russian oil refineries and airbases with drones as part of a widespread campaign to disrupt Russian military supplies and hamper the Russian air force.

    Drone countermeasures are advancing

    But Lincoln-Jones and Bagwell both echoed Gen. Schill’s warnings that drone countermeasures are advancing and would increasingly render small drones less effective.

    “There will be all sorts of techniques being used to jam the signals, the video, or the GPS signal,” Bagwell said.

    Schill said that electronic warfare — which uses the electromagnetic spectrum, including signals like radio, infrared, or radar, to disrupt an enemy’s ability to use those signals itself — was already neutralizing 75% of drones deployed in Ukraine.

    “Unless you can encrypt and use direct line of sight to control your drone, you’re very vulnerable to nearly every electronic warfare system,” Lincoln-Jones said. “You just need to know what frequency the drone is operating on from the point of view of its commands.”

    Nevertheless, current electronic warfare systems being used to defend against drone attacks have their limits. The use of such systems risks interfering with other technology, such as radios and cellphones that are in the drone’s vicinity.

    Drones remain key to Ukraine’s military strategy

    Drone production continues to surge in Ukraine despite the increasing number of defense systems employed against the technology. More than 200 companies now produce aerial drones in the country, and workers were producing around 50,000 FPVs a month by December, Forbes reported.

    Both sides are also pumping money into developing AI-powered drones that can bypass electronic warfare systems.

    This year, Ukraine also became one of the first countries ever to create a separate branch of its military dedicated to drone warfare.

    A recent report by the Atlantic Council said that Ukraine’s drone strategy would now likely “continue to focus on flexibility, innovation, and the daily challenge of maintaining a technological advantage over Russia.”

    Gen. Schill declined an interview with BI.

    Read the original article on Business Insider


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