Ukraine Situation Report: Drone-On-Drone Aerial Engagements Ramp-Up

To counter the pervasive presence of drones that make it very challenging for troops to maneuver, set up defensive lines and air defense systems, Ukraine has been increasing its attacks on Russian aerial drones using its own fast and highly maneuverable First Person-View (FPV) drones.

“Several different and independent Ukrainian teams are working on systems for intercepting enemy reconnaissance drones using FPV, and judging by the increasing frequency of videos (and less than half of real events are always published), there is not just progress, but this is becoming a systemic phenomenon,” deputy of the Verkhovna Rada’s Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence Yuriy Mysyagin said on his Telegram channel last week.

The latest example of these attacks was showcased Tuesday, when the “Signum” unit of Ukraine’s 93rd Separate Mechanized Brigade released video of an FPV drone it operated spotting and then closing in on a Russian Lancet loitering munition. There is no visual evidence that the FPV impacted the Lancet, however, the video ends with a still image of one destroyed on the ground.

The video features an incredible close-up view of the airborne Lancet, which you can see in this screencap.

A screencap from the Signum unit’s First Person-View (FPV) drone encounter with a Russian Lancet drone. Via Telegram

“An enemy kamikaze was detected and damaged by an air blast during a rapid descent and probable engagement, causing it to crash and break up in the field, causing no harm to anyone,” Signum wrote on its Telegram channel Tuesday. The War Zone cannnot independently verify that claim.

Signum said this incident was the latest in an increasing effort.

“It is no longer a secret for many that in recent months the defense forces have begun to effectively use FPV drones as air defense means to combat UAVs of the ‘[Lancet]’ and ‘Orlan’ type (which we do very well),” the unit noted.

Video of Ukrainian FPV drones attacking Lancets began to emerge on social media last month.

Russians troops are now beginning to complain about these attacks, saying they are reducing situational awareness.

“Many units/actions depend on such ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] drones (Zala, Supercam, Orlan),” one soldier explained on Telegram. “Destroying our ‘eyes’ in the sky will set us back a generation, forcing us to fight in 2D while the enemy continues to wage war in 3D. FPV drones are cheap, but big ISR UAVs are not.”

The first drone-on-drone engagement from the Ukraine war emerged on social media in October 2022.

As we have made the case for over many years, sometimes the best way to down a drone is with another drone. Since we first discussed this concept, a marketplace for such systems has not only emerged, but it is now ballooning. The idea that Ukraine is seeking this type of capability is entirely logical and their need is extremely urgent, especially since no counter-drone drones have been supplied to them from allied countries as of yet, at least that we know of.

Given how much damage is being caused to both sides by lower-end drones, we can expect to see more and increasingly sophisticated aerial duels between them.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

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On the battlefield, a great deal of attention by both sides is still being paid to Kharkiv Oblast, where a Russian offensive toward Ukraine’s second-largest city has largely stalled.

Still, there are dozens of Russian troops trapped inside an old aggregate plant in the now-destroyed city of Vovchansk, about 32 miles northeast of Kharkiv City, Yurii Povkh, spokesman for the Kharkiv Operational Strategic Group (OSG), told Ukrainska Pravda.

The aggregate plant has frequently attacked by Ukraine.

The whole city has been laid to waste as both sides continue to battle street by street there.

The Russian troops have been trapped in the building during fierce street-to-street fighting.

“Russian forces recently advanced within Vovchansk amid continued Russian ground attacks in the area on June 18,” the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment. “Geolocated footage published on June 18 indicates that Russian forces recently marginally advanced on the grounds of the Aggregate Plant in central Vovchansk. Fighting continued within Vovchansk on June 18, and a Russian milblogger claimed that the frontline in Vovchansk is often unclear since Ukrainian and Russian forces can hold positions ‘a few meters apart.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, fighting continues to rage in Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts with no major gains by either side.

Last week, we reported that U.S. President Joe Biden said that any future deliveries of air defense systems will go to Ukraine first before anyone else. Now it appears that vow, made during a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, may be coming to fruition.

The U.S. is planning to delay a $339 million deal to deliver 72 Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC) 3 Missile Segment Enhanced (MSE) missiles to Switzerland, Blick, a Swiss-based news organization, reported on Tuesday. It was part of a larger $700 million Swiss request, announced by the U.S. State Department last November, that also included components and spare parts among other items.

Instead, the interceptors will go to Ukraine.

“A procurement contract with the USA was signed last autumn,” Blick stated. “This is intended to further strengthen air defense. But now the war in Ukraine is putting a damper on the Defense Department’s plans, as several sources confirm to Blick.”

“According to the agreements with Washington, it should be possible to deviate from the agreed conditions if there are unusual or compelling reasons for doing so and if the national security concerns of the USA are affected,” the publication added. “The USA now seems to be claiming this because of the war in Ukraine.”

The Blick story does not address the delivery of the Patriot components and spare parts.

We reached out to the State Department on Tuesday and will update this story should any pertinent details be provided.

During a visit to Pyongyang, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday thanked North Korean despot Kim Jong-Un for supporting his war in Ukraine, Financial Times reported. Putin was in North Korea to sign a strategic partnership deepening trade and military ties between the two nations.

Though Putin did not offer details on what the pact entailed, he compared it to NATO supplies of long-range weaponry and F-16 fighter jets that Ukraine was or will be allowed to use on Russian territory, the publication reported. The implication was that Russia would expand military ties to North Korea in response.

 

As we reported earlier this month, Putin said Moscow was considering supplying long-range weapons to “regions” around the world where they could be used for strikes against Western targets. North Korea has already provided Russia with about short-range ballistic missiles and more than one million artillery shells for use against Ukraine.

On Tuesday, a U.S. State Department spokesman said that in recent months, Washington has seen North Korea “unlawfully transfer dozens of ballistic missiles and over 11,000 containers of munitions to aid Russia’s war effort,” The Associated Press reported.

In the face of mounting threats from Russia, China and North Korea, NATO is considering deploying more of its nuclear weapons (provided in a sharing arrangement via the U.S.), the head of the alliance said.

It is important that NATO “communicate the direct message that we, of course, are a nuclear alliance” by taking more of its warheads out of storage, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told The Telegraph on Sunday.

“I won’t go into operational details about how many nuclear warheads should be operational and which should be stored, but we need to consult on these issues,” he said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Denmark is providing its 19th military aid package to Ukraine, which includes “additional material to support Denmark’s F-16 donation” as well as long-term investments in Kyiv’s defense industry, the Danish Defense Ministry announced Wednesday.

The package involves “the conclusion of a number of different agreements with allies on purchases and donations from allied defense industries. Among other things, more material to support Denmark’s F-16 donation.”

The announcement also includes “donations from the Armed Forces’ own holdings.” It does not specify those holdings or the support material. Denmark has pledged 19 Vipers to Ukraine.

Speaking of F-16s, a propaganda poster is circulating online showing the Russian reaction to the pending arrivals of those jets. It’s a rendering of a Viper nose first in the ground with smoke pouring out of it. The words “Yankee Go Home,” a long-time anti-American slogan, are seen in the foreground.

Northrop Grumman plans to produce medium-caliber ammunition inside Ukraine under a project bankrolled by Ukrainian funds, a company official told Breaking Defense on Tuesday.

Several European defense firms have promised large-scale manufacturing programs inside Ukraine’s borders. However, Northrop’s coproduction agreement “is the first publicly acknowledged deal between a U.S. defense prime and the Ukrainian government for a manufacturing project inside Ukraine,” the publication reported.

“We’ve been working, as you know, in Ukraine to produce medium [caliber munitions]. That’s our first project that’s paid for with Ukrainian dollars. We are looking to expand that into tank ammo,155mm, others as we find innovative processes,” said Dave Bartell, director of international business for Northrop’s defense systems sector.

The commander of the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) uncrewed surface vessel (USV) confirmed that its sea drones packing R-73 heat-seeking air-to-air missiles are Magura V models.

“Magura maritime attack drones equipped with such missiles have already been used during combat operations in the Black Sea, and this has become a serious factor of fear and risk for Russian aviation,” the commander of “Group 13” said, according to GUR.

The War Zone first reported in May that the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) released video it said was an R-73-equipped Ukrainian USV coming under attack from a Russian Navy Ka-29 Helix-B assault helicopter. The USV performed some hard maneuvers to try and escape the Ka-29 but was eventually destroyed, apparently by gunfire. You can read more about that encounter in our original story here.

The Russian Aerospace Forces-connected Fighterbomber Telegram channel is complaining about the production of  Su-34 Fullback fighter-bombers that have been a key weapon in the war.

There were just two produced in the last six months. The Russian Air Force received two new Fullbacks two days ago and two back in April, said Fighterbomber. It’s unclear whether the April delivery was of new or refurbished jets, the Telegram channel added.

“But this does not change the essence,” Fighterbomber complained. “It is too little.”

Russia has lost at least 32 of its roughly 140 Fullbacks, with 30 destroyed and two damaged, according to the Oryx open-source tracking group, The actual figures could be significantly higher because Oryx only tabulates losses for which it has visual confirmation. 

The two Su-34s were damaged during a massive Ukrainian drone attack on June 14, Oryx noted. This confirms our report about that attack here.

By issuing an arrest warrant for a Ukrainian air defense officer, Russian investigators have confirmed that Kyiv shot down one of its A-50 Mainstay Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) jets in Russian airspace back in February.

A Moscow district court “granted the petition of the investigator of the Main Military Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation to impose a preventive measure in absentia in the form of detention” for Ukrainian Col. Nikolai Dzyaman, the committee wrote on its Telegram channel. He’s the commander of the 138th anti-aircraft missile brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

“On February 23, 2024, Russian airspace was patrolled by an aircraft of the Aerospace Forces of the Russian Federation,” investigators said. “According to the investigation, Colonel Dzyaman, realizing that the aircraft in question was not intended for combat operations, had no weapons, and the flight was taking place exclusively in the airspace of the Russian Federation, gave an illegal order to his subordinate military personnel to destroy it. These actions led to the death of 10 crew members and the destruction of the aircraft.”

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation did not specify what type of aircraft or the missile used to shoot it down but as we reported at the time, Ukraine claimed to have downed a Mainstay on that date. We suggested that it was possibly taken down by a Patriot.

The shutdown, about 100 miles from the front lines, was a joint operation by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian intelligence services, Ukrainian sources said at the time.

Dzyaman was charged in absentia with committing a crime under paragraph “b” of Part 3 of Art. 205 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (terrorist act resulting in the death of a person) and was put on the federal wanted list.

Last week, we reported that a U.S. Army air defense officer acknowledged that Ukraine shot down a Mainstay with a German-provided Patriot system in a January incident she described as a “SAMbush,” or surface-to-air missile ambush. You can read more about that here.

More video has emerged of Ukrainian FPV drone attacks on Russian troops.

The one below, recorded by another drone, shows a Russian soldier trying to hide from an FPV by ducking into a destroyed tank. He then climbs out of it and moves around the tank, followed all the while by the drone until it strikes him.

It can be challenging enough just to walk through a dense forest, but as you can see in the video below, a Ukrainian operator managed to guide an FPV drone through branches overhanging a tree-lined path to hit a Russian soldier. He doesn’t even turn around as the drone approaches and the video cuts out before detonation.

In war, a lucky shot can mean the difference between life or death. Like the situation involving the Russian soldier in the following video. As a drone watches on, he is observed firing at another drone, destroying it, thus surviving that encounter. Amazingly he wasn’t dropped to the ground by the resulting shrapnel cloud.

The Russian soldier in the following video was not so lucky. In a trench somewhere on the front lines, he pretended to surrender, but was holding what appeared to be a grenade, though it is hard to tell from the quality of the footage.

“If you try to throw a grenade, you’re KIA [Killed in Action] instantly,” one of the Ukrainian troops shouts at him. An overhead drone view shows the surrounded Russian attempt to get up from his crouched position in a trench. The Ukrainian troops then open fire.

In another trench battle, a Russian soldier fires so many rounds from his rifle that it heats up the muzzle compensator to the point where it is glowing red as a result.

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A fire caused by a Ukrainian drone strike on an oil terminal in Azov, southern Russia, has been burning for more than 36 hours despite the efforts of firefighters, Rostov Oblast Gov. Vasily Golubev said Wednesday on his Telegram channel.

“Unfortunately, it is not possible to stabilize the situation at the oil depot in Azov, where the day before a fire broke out as a result of a UAV attack,” he wrote. “The fire has still not been extinguished. At [4:40 p.m. local time] the 2nd tank depressurized. Emergency Situations Ministry specialists continue to work to extinguish the fire.

The drone attack was carried out by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Reuters reported.

A picture of one of the burning tanks shows what appears to be drone-shaped hole.

Ukraine for the first time released video of one of its MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters conducting a standoff strike with a US-supplied Joint Direct Attack Munition-Extended Range (JDAM-ER) precision-guided bomb. The video shows the pilot climbing at a high altitude and releasing the weapon from a pylon under the left wing. A screencap shows the front end of the pylon that houses a GPS antenna that aligns the bomb’s GPS/INS guidance before its release. Back in May, we wrote that the U.S. Air Force was working to procure add-on seekers allowing the JDAM-ERs to home in on GPS jamming devices, turning the tables on a countermeasure that would become a target as a result. Now we are seeing them in action, a huge development considering that Russian jamming is severely degrading the effectiveness of Western-supplied GPS-guided munitions, including JDAM-ERs.

Ukraine also released video of one of its Fulcrums firing off a U.S.-donated AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs), reportedly at a Russian radar installation. The video cuts off a the pilot banks to the left as the missile is still flying, so we don’t know the result of this engagement.

Photos have emerged on social media showing Explosive Ordinace Disposal (EOD) personnel from Ukraine’s Interregional Center for Humanitarian Demining and Rapid Response removing a Russian UMPB D-30SN winged precision-guided bomb from a crater in Kharkiv Oblast. The bomb is much more refined than the previous UMPK, a fairly crude type of weapon that nonetheless has caused considerable difficulties for Ukrainian air defenses since its introduction in around early 2023.

An armed Russian soldier is seen being carried aloft by a large quadcopter drone for nearly half a minute in this video below.

Produced by the official Russian RIA Novosti news outlet, the video shows a “Perun” heavy quadcopter lift the soldier in the air. The Perun can reportedly lift about 440 pounds of cargo, according to the Russian Operational Communication Telegram channel. For a few seconds, you can also see a small, uncrewed ground vehicle (UGV) as well.

Russia also released video of a tracked, Electronic Warfare (EW) equipped UGV, dubbed Wall-E, an apparent homage to the small, garbage-collecting robot in the eponymous 2008 film.

“Russian developers of electronic warfare systems demonstrated the first domestic tracked platform with a jamming system installed on it,” the Russian Art of War Telegram channel reported. “She successfully passed all tests.”

The UGV’s mission is to provide EW coverage for Russian infantry.

The video cuts between Wall-E speeding over a grassy area and a Russian soldier explaining what it is and how it works. There are no demonstrations of its EW capabilities.

Throughout this war, we’ve seen video and images of tanks on both sides with Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) tiles designed to explode incoming rounds upon impact to reduce their destructive energy. However, we have never seen anything quite like the extreme ERA tiling of this Russian T-62 tank.

The Russian soldier in this video below has resorted to using a walk-behind tractor with an attached loaded wagon to carry supplies.

“That’s power,” says the smiling soldier as he motors past a comrade.

And finally, an attempt to shoot down a Ukrainian flag placed on a cell tower in Belgorod, Russia, did not go according to plan. Instead of removing the offending banner, the Russians reportedly managed to burn down the tower, which you can see flaming in the video below.

That’s it for now.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.

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