Ukrainian FPV Drones Hunt, Kill Russian Armor Inside Building

The war in Ukraine has yielded some extraordinary videos captured by drones, especially footage recorded by first-person view (FPV) attack drones — a type of highly maneuverable loitering munition used for both reconnaissance and attack which are operated by a user wearing a headset. These weapons have become so critical to the fight in Ukraine that an arms race between Moscow and Kyiv to gain numerical superiority over them is well underway. They have even been referenced as on par with artillery in terms of how important they have become on the battlefield.

Now, dramatic footage has come to light that shows Ukrainian FPV drone operators hunting for Russian armor inside a warehouse, exactly the kind of structure that one would think would conceal and thus protect assets from such attacks. It’s another reminder of the ‘democratization’ of the precision-guided munitions capability that agile and relatively cheap drones turned improvised weapons have brought to the modern battlefield.

The footage in question was originally posted on the Wild Hornets Telegram channel. Wild Hornets is a Ukrainian volunteer organization that produces small, FPV drones for the Ukrainian military. The accompanying caption to the Telegram post notes that the drones, which can reportedly carry a two-kilogram (roughly four-and-a-half pound) payload and cost just hundreds of dollars each, belonged to the Ukrainian Bulava strike unit of the Bohdan Khmelnytskyi Separate Presidential Brigade.  

While the precise date of the attacks remains unclear, open-source intelligence (OSINT) accounts on X, formerly known as Twitter, have geolocated the warehouses to Staromlynivka, Donetsk Oblast. The village of Staromlynivka sits around three miles from the southern frontline’s Velyka Novosilka axis. This is the heart of the FPV drone’s operating envelope. It is interesting that the two-way link between the drones and their operators remains intact as they descend inside the building at that range, although they begin to degrade significantly.

The two-minute, 14-second-long video begins with one of the FPV munitions slowly entering one of the warehouses via a large, uncovered entrance.

First FPV drone seen slowly approaching one of the warehouse’s entrances. Via Twitter/X

The drone can then be seen hovering inside before smashing into a rare BMPT Terminator armored fighting vehicle. Derived from the T-72 tank chassis, the Terminator is designed to carry a crew of five, and has origins dating back to the mid-1990s. You can read more about the vehicle, including its weapons and capabilities, in these past War Zone features

Via Twitter/X

At the 27-second mark, we see visuals from a second FPV drone, which shows that it was running low on battery life at the time, entering the warehouse from a separate open entry point. The drone quickly dives into a T-72 tank and detonates.

Via Twitter/X
Via Twitter/X

A further series of strikes within the warehouse can then be seen, in which another T-72 tank, a BMP-3 fighting vehicle, two S-60 anti-aircraft guns, and two trucks, reportedly loaded with ammunition, were targeted, the Wild Hornets caption states.

Via Twitter/X
Via Twitter/X
One of the trucks immediately before the strike. Via Twitter/X

Video filmed prior to one of the later strikes at the 45-second mark shows the warehouse ablaze.

Via Twitter/X

Towards the end of the video, at around the one-minute and 41-second mark, we see the impact of the strikes from a distance as the facility billows thick black smoke. 

Via Twitter/X
Via Twitter/X

“In one working day, the fighters of the Bulava strike unit… used drones [collectively] worth 200,000 hryvnias [just under $5,200] and burned tens of millions of enemy equipment,” a machine translation of the Wild Hornet Telegram caption notes. “The Russians were collecting equipment for an offensive in the south, but Ukrainian pilots tracked them down and shot them with Wild Hornets drones as if in a shooting range.”

OSINT accounts have pointed to the blasé way in which the Russians chose to store the armor in the warehouse, and how even basic protection could have helped to prevent the strikes. Rob Lee, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, noted how “cheap nets over the entrances likely could have prevented these losses.” You can read more about how these sorts of standing defenses have been used to counter FPV drone attacks here.

Adding to the aforementioned point on the warehouse’s lack of defenses, Lee also highlights Russian “complacency [in] leaving this much equipment this exposed so close to the front line,” underscoring how drone technology can pose threats on and off traditional battlefields.

However, several users have also stressed how the footage underscores just how reliant Ukraine has become on drones, particularly FPV drones, to perform these sorts of missions. Ukraine’s dwindling artillery reserves are a massive issue right now as the U.S. has stopped delivering shipments of military aid and Ukraine’s supporters in Europe have fallen behind their stated delivery goals. Meanwhile, Russia has North Korea now supplying it with massive amounts of artillery shells.

Regardless, as we stated at the opening of this post, FPV drones have become a signature weapon of the conflict in Ukraine, and the country has used them to great effect in hunting down Russian tanks, vehicles, and even soldiers.

The cost-effective impact the munitions are having for Ukraine led Kyiv to declare its intentions to manufacture around a million FPV drones this year; an ambitious target the viability of which remains to be seen. The rapid need for them recently led Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov to encourage Ukrainian civilians to learn how to make seven-inch (177 millimeter) FPV drones at home, as part of a so-called “People’s Drone Project.”

FPV drones “are a competitive advantage on the battlefield,” Fedorov said in May 2023. “They catch up and destroy almost any target. And most importantly, they save the lives of our soldiers, who see every step of the Russians while in hiding.”

On top of increasing domestic production of this capability, various European nations — led by Latvia and the United Kingdom — have established a “drone coalition” that aims to supply Kyiv with a further million FPV drones, although the precise timeline for delivery has not been stated.

The need for more FPV drones comes as Russia has quickly increased its own stockpiles of them; so much so that it is considered to have overtaken the numbers at Kyiv’s disposal. Ukrainian Army Commander Yuriy Fedorenko said in an interview with Suspilne in December last year that:

“As far as FPV drones are concerned, objectively, on priority areas for the enemy, we have a ratio of one of our drones to 5-7 enemy [Russian] drones…”

“It is possible to ensure parity [in terms of FPV drones]. This is also achieved by the perseverance and courage of the personnel. Because as close to the front line as our pilots climb, the enemy pilots do not work,” he said.

Regardless of who wins the FPV drone production contest, the fact that places that were relatively safe from surveillance and subsequent attacks at the beginning of the conflict are no longer so, unless unique precautions are taken, serves as a reminder of just how fast things have changed on the battlefield in Ukraine.

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Oliver Parken

Associate Editor

Oli’s background is in the cultural and military history of twentieth-century Britain. Before joining The War Zone team in early in 2022, he was Assistant Lecturer at the University of Kent’s Center for the History of War, Media and Society in the U.K., where he completed his PhD in 2021. Alongside his contributions to The War Zone‘s military history catalog, he also covers contemporary topics and breaking news.