Kyiv says it plans to manufacture around a million first-person view (FPV) drones next year, as part of expanding efforts to build uncrewed aircraft of different types. Used for reconnaissance and attack, the FPV drone is a weapon that has had a significant impact on the battlefield, as well as producing some of the most dramatic video footage of the war so far. However, there are real questions about whether such an output is even possible.
“All production facilities are ready, and contracting for 2024 begins,” Kamyshin said on the Telegram messaging app.
Among the long-range attack drones, it’s planned to build at least 1,000 drones with a range of more than 1,000km (620 miles), Kamyshin added.
As well as the undoubted effectiveness of FPV drones on the battlefield, and their relatively low procurement cost, the move has very likely also been driven by Russia’s increasing armory of the same kinds of drones. While Ukraine pioneered the use of these adapted civilian-type drones, Russia is now considered to operate more of them and the gap is increasing.
The effects of the FPV drones in both Ukrainian and Russian hands can be seen in the video below:
Ramping up production of such drones in Ukraine also has an economic imperative, helping to boost local industry. This is in addition to providing greater autonomy from Western sources of military materiel amid questions about the continued flow of weapons and funds to Kyiv.
Again, however, the viability of Ukraine producing such huge numbers of drones, even fairly low-tech ones, very much remains to be seen. Still, even the goal shows how important FPV drone supremacy on the battlefield is becoming.
Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
More drones next, with a very interesting thread on X (formerly Twitter) that details the Hermes anti-interference communication kit used by Russian soldiers to control their drones, especially FPV types, and produced in Russia. At least in theory.
Described by Russian accounts as a near-miraculous communications tool that is highly resistant to jamming, the device makes extensive use of low-cost, off-the-shelf components.
Although billed as an entirely Russian development, the truth is somewhat different, with various subcomponents being made elsewhere — mainly in China — and sourced on the commercial market.
The next video is very possibly drone-related, too, showing a Ukrainian soldier dismantling a 300mm rocket from a Russian-made BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher, to obtain the cluster munitions inside. Ukraine has made extensive use of cluster munitions for the novel purpose of using their submunitions to arm small drones, which is very likely what we are seeing here.
Undoubtedly, this is a highly dangerous practice, but one that we have seen before, and will likely see again, especially with a growing appetite for small munitions to arm FPV drones.
Not surprisingly, Ukraine and Russia offer deeply differing perspectives on how the war on the battlefield is developing, as we head toward the end of the year.
Regarding the progress of the respective sides, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that “Russia hasn’t gotten any result from this year.”
Zelensky also said he remains committed to restoring Ukraine to its pre-2014 territory, including the return of Crimea. However, he also said that battlefield tactics might be changed, after “careful consideration” of the results of military operations this year.
In its latest intelligence assessment, the U.K. Ministry of Defense says that Ukrainian forces are pivoting “to a defensive posture” along much of the front line. This involves strengthening positions along these lines, seen as a response to Zelensky’s call last month “for faster fortification in key sectors.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense’s daily briefing states:
“In recent weeks, Ukraine has mobilized a concerted effort to improve field fortifications as its forces pivot to a more defensive posture along much of the front line.”
“In one part of the project, Ukraine has worked to improve defenses along its border with Belarus with dragon’s teeth, razor wire, and anti-tank ditches as of mid-December 2023.”
“Russia continues local offensive options in several sectors, but individual attacks are rarely above platoon size. A major Russian breakthrough is unlikely and overall, the front is characterized by stasis.”
What Zelensky’s future war plans call for remains unclear, but the Ukrainian leader has also said that he is developing a proposal to mobilize between 450,000 and 500,000 more Ukrainians into the armed forces. Nevertheless, he described this as a “highly sensitive” issue that would require further discussions between the military and government.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, told defense officials in Moscow that the Russian military currently has the momentum. “Our troops are holding the initiative,” Putin said, during an end-of-year meeting with his defense leadership. “We are effectively doing what we think is needed, doing what we want.”
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has provided imagery of its E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft during missions while deployed to Germany, where it is helping keep watch over military and humanitarian supplies entering Ukraine under Operation Kudu.
The news of the Wedgetail’s deployment was broken in June by Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Berlin following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Starting in October, the deployment is also seen as an important stepping stone for the E-7 in Europe, with the AEW&C recently having been selected by NATO.
A weapon fairly seldom seen since its delivery to Ukraine is the ground-launched version of the Hellfire precision-guided missile, seen here purportedly in action somewhere in eastern Ukraine.
Supplied by Sweden, the Hellfire Shore Defense System’ (HSDS) uses a derivative of the U.S. AGM-114C Hellfire anti-tank missile and was sent to Ukraine by Sweden in an aid package in the summer of 2022, which you can read about in more detail in this past War Zone report. Also known in Swedish service as the RBS 17, the weapon was developed for coastal defense but is primarily used in an inland attack role by Ukrainian forces.
Russia has blamed the United Kingdom for pressuring Ukraine to walk away from peace talks last year, Reuters reports.
In an unsubstantiated rant, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed that Kyiv withdrew from the negotiation process in 2022 “at Britain’s insistence” after the United Kingdom “forbade” negotiations with Moscow.
Peskov claimed that the British applied pressure on Kyiv to refuse a draft deal shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February 2022.
“After that, there were no prerequisites for negotiations — and there were even fewer prerequisites after Ukraine actually legally prohibited any negotiations with the Russian side,” Peskov said.
In October 2022, President Zelensky signed a decree formally declaring that Ukrainian talks with Putin were “impossible,” after Russia claimed to have annexed four regions of southern and eastern Ukraine. Kyiv is only willing to consider a peace deal if based on a full Russian withdrawal from all the territory it has seized.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, refuses to do that. He told defense officials in Moscow today that he would “not give up what is ours.”
A secretive cyber war is being fought between Russia and Ukraine, as well as Kyiv’s allies. A group of 11 countries have now set up a mechanism to help defeat Moscow’s hostile activities in the cyber domain.
The Tallinn Mechanism on Cyber Defense includes the foreign ministries of Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
According to a statement from the U.K. Ministry of Defense, the mechanism “aims to coordinate and facilitate civilian cyber capacity building to help Ukraine uphold its fundamental right to self-defense in cyberspace and address longer-term cyber resilience needs.”
U.K. Minister of State in the Cabinet Office, and lead minister for the conflict stability and security fund, Lady Neville-Rolfe said:
“The U.K. and Ukraine are fighting side by side in the cyber war against Russia whose appalling attacks know no bounds. Russia is attacking Ukraine’s cyber infrastructure in order to harm innocent people, choke the economy, and sow confusion.”
“That is why the UK is supporting Ukraine with state-of-the-art technology, tools, and expertise to thwart these cruel attacks, including those on critical infrastructure. Our support remains steadfast.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the news on X (formerly Twitter):
Another topic discussed in President Putin’s end-of-year meeting with defense officials is the country’s tank manufacturing output. Speaking at the meeting, Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu said that Russia has increased tank production by a factor of 5.6 times since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
If true, the question remains just how meaningful this statistic is, based on the output of tanks before the launch of the “Special Military Operation.”
In another interesting comment, Shoigu claimed that Russia had laid 7,000 square kilometers (2,700 square miles) of minefields over a front line measuring 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles).
Another Russian aerial attack struck Kyiv overnight, the fifth large-scale attack of its kind this month, as Moscow keeps up the pressure of its winter offensive against Ukrainian cities and, especially, energy infrastructure.
Ukrainian military officials said that their air defenses destroyed 18 out of 19 one-way attack drones launched at Kyiv, Odesa, Kherson, and other regions.
“According to preliminary information, there were no casualties or destruction in the capital,” Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv’s military administration, said on the Telegram messaging app.
The Ukrainian prosecutor’s office said that nine people, including four children, were injured in the drone attack on the Ukrainian southern city of Kherson.
The Ukrainian Air Force reports that Russia also launched an attack in the eastern Kharkiv region, using at least two surface-to-air missiles in a land-attack role. There were no reported casualties there.
The fallout from the rift between President Zelensky and the chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi continues. According to Reuters, the vast majority of Ukrainians are not in favor of Zaluzhnyi being sacked. This is according to a poll of 1,200 people by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS).
The poll revealed that only two percent of Ukrainians actively support the removal of Zaluzhnyi from his post, with 72 percent viewing such a move “negatively.” Overall, public trust in Zaluzhnyi stood at 92 percent, compared with 77 percent for Zelensky.
Speculation that Zaluzhnyi could be fired has grown in recent weeks, as a result of the tensions between him and the Ukrainian president.
Criticisms have been leveled at Zaluzhnyi due to the limited progress made by Ukraine’s 2023 counteroffensive, launched this summer. However, his popularity remains very high among citizens who continue to celebrate him on account of his successes.
The limited results achieved by the counteroffensive also appear to have contributed to Zelensky’s falling favor among Ukrainians.
Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Zelensky denied there was any rift between him and Zaluzhnyi but demanded to see decisive results from the military leadership. Zelensky said he still had a working relationship with Zaluzhnyi.
More Western-sourced equipment in Ukrainian hands in the next tweet, with a photo of the Turkish-made Otokar Cobra II vehicle in use with the Ukrainian Armed Forces, date and location unknown.
The Cobra II is described by its manufacturer as a “4x4 Tactical Wheeled Armored Vehicle is a modular platform with superior technical and tactical characteristics. Besides outstanding mobility, Cobra II provides higher ballistic and mine protection, increased payload capacity, and internal volume.”
Ukraine purchased at least 20 of these vehicles directly from Turkey in May this year.
In response to a parliamentary written question about the status of these aircraft from Labor MP Clive Lewis, James Cartlidge, the Minister of State, Ministry of Defense, responded:
“Since February 2022 no Tranche 1 Typhoon aircraft have been retired from RAF service or donated to Ukraine. The Tranche 1 fleet will undergo a Reduce to Produce program to strip them of useable parts to contribute to the Typhoon fleet’s spares inventory.”
Cartlidge confirmed that there are currently 30 Tranche 1 aircraft on the military register, of which 26 will leave service by the end of March 2025.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense also said that, so far, it has donated three Sea King search and rescue helicopters to Ukraine but that “There are no plans to donate fixed-wing aircraft or additional helicopters to Ukraine at this time.”
That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.
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