Russia buys motors from AliExpress for drones ‘made of sticks’

During the shelling of Ukraine on Sunday, October 22, Russian troops launched two drones of an unknown type. Various sources evidence that these devices derive their propulsion systems purchased from the online marketplace, AliExpress. 

Russia buys motors from AliExpress for drones 'made of sticks'
Photo credit: Defense Express

This insight came from Yuriy Ignat, the designated spokesperson of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ Air Command. As reported by RBC-Ukraine, Ignat’s statements can be traced to an interview conducted on the broadcasting network “My-Ukraine”

Ignat outlined in his interview, “The residual debris, upon inspection, gives clarity about the enemy’s engineering processes. Notably, the propulsion mechanism originated from AliExpress, showcasing the enemy’s resourcefulness. It is not a singular event where these ‘aircraft’ have been constructed using rudimentary items and deployed against our nation.” 

Russia buys motors from AliExpress for drones 'made of sticks'
Photo credit: Defense Express

Nonetheless, drones of such nature pose a significant hazard, in Ignat’s view. He added, “This unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] falls under the assault category, packed with several kilograms of explosive content, thus embodying a substantial threat. The deployment of these two UAVs was noted from a northerly direction.”

A fact that was known

It has been formally confirmed by an Air Force representative that Russian armed forces are employing unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] constructed with wood, drawing similarities with “airborne wooden vessels.” This assertion initially surfaced in May of 2023. 

More specifically, the Joint Force Command, on May 4, 2023, made a statement. It was reported that the servicemen of the Armed Forces, operating in the Sumy Region, had successfully intercepted an unidentified drone of rudimentary design, presumably utilized for surveying purposes. 

Russia buys motors from AliExpress for drones 'made of sticks'
Photo credit: Defense Express

This claim further implies the integration of “civilian-grade” cameras into the drone design. However, during the initial discovery period, certain design aspects and the equipment comprised within this UAV remained elusive. Nevertheless, it is imperative to recollect that early conjectures suggested that these “airborne wooden vessels” were being deployed by Russia to inundate Ukrainian air defenses in the border regions.

A cheap and effective solution

In June 2023, early specifics regarding the components of these so-called “flying shelves” were revealed. The data suggests that these drones, constructed from simple materials, are an economical and competent strategy for accomplishing a diversified range of tasks. Notably, these tasks may include potential visual tracking of Ukrainian air defense systems at the commencement, or other stages, of the drone’s flight path. 

Russia buys motors from AliExpress for drones 'made of sticks'
Photo credit: Defense Express

Fascinatingly, it was discovered that one of these grounded drones was equipped with a corner reflector. This revelation could imply that these drones are intentionally engineered by the Russians to be radar-detectable, thereby instigating the activation of the adversary’s air defense systems. 

Moreover, at that time, there was speculation that the Iridium satellite communications modem might hold the potential to govern the flight of these contraptions. 

These drone designs are noteworthy, even using an everyday plastic bottle as a makeshift fuel tank. The implementation of a dual-engine configuration is certainly innovative, with one engine providing the propulsive force and the other serving as a thrust engine.

Not only sticks, foamplast too

The Ukrainian conflict scene appears to present not only a battleground of Western and Soviet/Russian weaponry but also a theatre of innovative measures.

Russia unveils foamplast FPV UAV with max-radio transparency
Photo by Ekaterina Adamova

As recently reported by BulgarianMilitary.com, Russian technologists have successfully conceptualized and built an unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] known as the MM-1. The striking feature of this UAV is that it is crafted predominantly from Styrofoam, rendering it undetectable by electronic warfare systems.

Industry insiders speaking with TASS revealed that the MM-1’s construction leverages everyday foam, resulting in an economically viable manufacturing process. One of the critical attributes of this UAV lies in its impressive radio transparency, achieved by minimizing components that could give rise to interference.

The MM-1, equipped with stealth capabilities for electronic warfare systems, offers promising prospects for maneuverability in the face of enemy radio-electronic obstructions, according to sources. The construction of this aerial vehicle intentionally minimizes the use of metal parts – it incorporates only the engine and a few screws. If these screws trigger any interference issues, the product engineers are prepared to roll out a version with fiberglass screws instead.

Ukraine uses foamboard drones

Ukraine has emerged as a trailblazer in the application of lightweight drones in battle zones, specifically employing the foamboard-constructed, Australian-produced Sypaq drone. As unveiled by BulgarianMilitary.com in September, Ukraine’s use of this unmanned aerial vehicle was evident in an attack on the Russian air base in Pskov, a fact later confirmed by Ukrainian authorities, challenging the initial conjecture. 

The Sypaq Corvo Precision Payload Delivery System functions within a 75-mile radius. Given this operational parameter, it can be deduced that the drone was launched near the aforementioned Pskov base. 

Despite its light weight of 2.4kg, this drone, bereft of a camera and navigating using GPS technology, can ferry a 3kg payload, a feat made possible by its battery-fueled strength. Ukrainian intelligence validates that similar drone models were deployed during the assault on the Kursk airport, a mere two days before the strike on Pskov.

Shelling of Ukraine

During the late hours of October 22, Ukraine was besieged by Russian aggressors wielding air-guided attack UAVs and anti-aircraft missile systems. 

'Non-classical' Su-57s are using Soviet-made Kh-59M ASM in Ukraine
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The vigilant air defense troops managed to neutralize six enemy drones – three of the Shahed type and three known as Lancet. A formidable Russian Kh-59 missile was successfully taken down as well. Of note, the morning of October 22 saw a significant victory in the Dnipropetrovsk region, whereby the air defense forces intercepted and destroyed a hostile missile.

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