Hide-And-Seek Of Drone Warfare, A Letter From Ukraine's Front Line
A member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces writes his account of the new dynamic of targeting, and being targeted by, the invading Russian troops, as drones circle above and trenches get left behind.
KYIV — The current war in Ukraine is a game of hide-and-seek. Both sides are very well-stocked with artillery, enough to destroy the enemy along many kilometers. Swarms of drones fly through the air day and night, keeping a close eye on the earth's surface below. If they notice something interesting, it immediately becomes a target. Depending on the priority, they put it in line for destruction by artillery.
Therefore, the only effective way to survive is to hide, or at least somehow prove to the drones your non-priority status — and avoid moving to the front of the 'queue of death.'
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In general, the nature of this queue is a particular thing. It may seem to be a god, but is instead a simple artillery captain's decision of when to have lunch, and when to fire on the house where several enemy soldiers are staying. It's just a handful of ordinary people (observers, artillerymen) deciding how long their enemies will live depending on their own schedule or the weather, the availability of ammunition or if they're feeling tired.
People who may have become targets sometimes have the luck to escape death a bit longer simply because other, more important targets appeared in the meantime. “Tonight, we are working on the armored vehicles hidden in the landing," one artillery operator said recently, "we'll let those at the checkpoint live until tomorrow.”
Everyone is hiding. The infantry is hiding — it is the easiest thing for them to do. Soldiers are sitting in houses, in the forest belts and forests trying in every possible way to hide the signs of their existence.
The idea of a war with trenches and the movement of large columns is outdated. That is not to say the Russians aren't moving in large columns, but they're doing it less and less — as the tragic consequences of it has regularly appeared in viral videos online.
There are always some exceptions to all the hiding.
Trenches usually stay empty until the brief, right moment. If possible, communication tunnels are dug to reach the trenches, so that the infantry can dash into them when the enemy has gotten too close to the places they've been hiding. But besides that, no one will just sit in the trench and wait.
Of course, there are always some exceptions to all the hiding. You'll see a soldier sitting and cooking on a fire in a local farmer's yard. Others even do exercises outdoors.
But this is not Chechnya or Syria. Such behavior by Russian troops is sooner or later punished. The sky is filled with the watchful electronic eyes of our growing fleet of drones.
View of a drone during the anti-drone rifle testing in Kyiv.Mykhaylo Palinchak/SOPA Images/ZUMA
Ukraine hidden weapons
The other thing that is regularly hidden is the equipment. First of all, armored vehicles. Plus there are guns, tanks, combat vehicles, all these are exquisite delicacies for artillery. The armored vehicles hide in rural locations under a layer of branches, and in the city, they are disguised as piles of garbage or hidden in the corners of yards so that the house covers them from shelling.
It is not easy to hide armored vehicles. The earth remembers everything: traces remain on the soil, on the asphalt. Their principle is the same as the infantry’s: to go to a position prepared for fire, shoot several times and move to another place without waiting for a shell to fly there.
Of course, the aircraft are also hiding. This month Russian helicopters could only be heard. They fire a swarm of unguided missiles from behind the hill and turn back before those reach and hit the target. This is blind shooting, dangerous only because someone may not hear the helicopter and not hide.
It seems that their helicopters that acted differently have already been taken out by the Ukrainian Air Defense Forces.
The artillery is also hiding. For example, our self-propelled guns take a few shots and run away, because Russian artillery starts firing at them, and after a few minutes ours starts firing at them again. And so on...
Rarely do tanks come out and shoot at each other. I have seen this, or rather heard it, but this was a result of the exceptional recklessness of tank commanders as a special part of humanity.
Trucks are the hardest to hide, large in length and height, the ultimate disposable products of war.
Loss of artillery fire
It was not always like that. Confident in the superiority of their artillery and aircraft, the Russians positioned themselves in fields visible for many kilometers. It was as if they were at a military exercise somewhere in the Rostov region of their own country.
There was time to order them to change tactics.
They suffered losses from our artillery fire, called helicopters to evacuate the wounded, which the Ukrainians shot down too. And so, it happened again and again, until somewhere in the distant headquarters, there was time to order them to change tactics. To hide.
Some 90% of our losses are from artillery fire. The Russians probably have a lower rate in relative terms (although, perhaps, higher in absolute terms), because the Ukrainian infantry competes with the Ukrainian artillery for the heads of occupiers.
Our advantage in light anti-tank weapons includes “Skifs” (anti-tank guided missiles), Javelins and NLAWs, so the Russians are also destroyed in the line of sight. But in general, although the fighting is fierce, it may be months before soldiers see the enemy with their own eyes .
*The author is an active member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
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