The burgeoning, home-grown Ukrainian drone industry is hitting its stride as aerospace engineering students design new drones to repel the invaders.
One such drone is the Vampire Bomber Drone, which is fast, extremely hard to spot, and operates in the dead of night thanks to thermal imaging.
On Tuesday of this week, the defense ministry of Ukraine shared a video of the Vampire drone from United24, a Ukrainian government-run crowdfunding and digital-media site, calling the unmanned aerial vehicle “the Russian’s nightmare.”
Notably, Ukrainian soldiers around Bakhmut have been using the Chinese-made consumer videography drone DJI Mavic to spot and attack Russian infantry during the day.
Then, at night, the Vampire comes out to hunt for Russian armor.
The Vampire can carry a payload of up to 15 kg (about 33 lbs) and can travel up to 10 km at speeds up to 120 km/h. Its battery allows a flight time of approximately 25 minutes with a load of Russian nightmare juice.
Because of their ability to sneak up on Russian armor at night, and their large payload capacity, Ukrainian soldiers primarily use the Vampire to target Russian tanks.
Interestingly, the Vampire seems somewhat immune from Russian jamming efforts — the same can’t be said for Ukraine’s Mavic drones. This is understandable as the Mavic wasn’t meant for military applications.
What evil magic did Ukraine cast on the Vampire to make it resilient to Russian electronic warfare?
That is likely classified, but we can make some educated guesses:
One of the most effective anti-jamming measures is the use of frequency hopping.
Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) technology can be used to continuously switch frequencies during communication. This makes it difficult for jammers to pinpoint and disrupt the drone’s signal. Drones equipped with FHSS systems can rapidly hop between multiple frequencies within a predefined range.
There are also anti-jamming and directional antennas which are designed to reject interfering signals and focus on the desired communication source.
Finally, they may be using redundant communication links. If one link is jammed, the drone can switch to another source of communication, such as satellite communication or a different ground station.
Back in August, Mykhailo Fedorov, the vice prime minister of Ukraine for innovation, education, science, and technology, posted a video showing off a room full of Vampire drones.
He said 270 of the UAVs would be headed to the front lines “to back up our Ukrainian soldiers during the counteroffensive.”
A home-grown industry
Drone factories have been popping up all over Ukraine in recent months.
These factories are well-hidden, and for good reason. Russia would love to drop a cruise missile on Ukraine’s drone warfare capability.
Shortly after the war began, the advantages of using a drone worth a few hundred dollars to destroy a Russian tank worth millions became obvious.
Not long after, Ukraine began importing as many drones as they could. Once Chinese drone manufacturer DJI realized that their videography drones were being used in war, they restricted exports around September 1st of this year.
DJI controls about 90% of the global drone market.
Clearly, Ukraine needed a new drone solution and the best way to avoid future supply disruptions — disruptions that could give Russia the upper hand — was to build them themselves.
In no time, aerospace engineering students, their professors, factory workers, small business owners, government officials, and former soldiers united to create Ukraine’s newest domestic product: the lethal combat drone.
All of Ukraine’s drones are made by hand because an assembly line would take supplies and resources that are needed elsewhere in the war effort, but also because a large plant would leave a sizable footprint for the Russians to identify and attempt to destroy.
These artisanal drone factories are keeping Ukraine in the fight as the country burns through an estimated 10,000 drones per month in the war.
Once this war is over, Ukraine will have a new military tech industry ready to export battle-tested drone designs to NATO and other allies.
The government had a role to play as well. Before the war, many of Ukraine’s tech laws were designed to govern military technology from the Cold War.
But Ukraine’s Army of Drones program did a lot to ease the procedures and make them faster and more transparent. This program is unique in that it provides immense flexibility for drone makers and includes a two-track system: One is informal, making drones through friends and family contacts. The other is more formal and systematic, closer to traditional military production.
On the Russian side, leaked documents show that Moscow is progressing toward its goal of mass-producing UAVs as well.
This means that Ukraine must get its hands on anti-drone technology of its own to combat the Russian threat from the skies.
Most American counter-drone systems are non-kinetic — that is to say, they disrupt a drone’s flight capabilities by blocking or corrupting the signals crucial for control and navigation. These can be as small as hand-held devices no bigger than an assault rifle.
Interestingly, the U.S. has its own counter-drone system called the Vampire — not to be confused with Ukraine’s drone of the same name — the U.S. system stands for Vehicle Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment (VAMPIRE) kit and is mounted in a pickup truck.
As for Ukraine’s Vampire drones, these are essential for making life miserable for the invaders.
The fact that the Russians have started calling it “Baba Yaga” means they fear it.
And if they fear it, it means it’s affecting not just Russian equipment, but it’s also having a psychological effect on the invaders themselves.
Look, Russian soldiers… Holy water and wooden stakes won’t help you here. If you don’t want Baba Yaga to get you in the middle of the night, all you have to do is surrender to Ukrainian forces… Or better yet, just turn around and go home.
Only then will you be safe from the vampire.