Russian forces destroy lost Ukrainian Magura V USV with FPV drone

An intriguing video has emerged online, reportedly showing a Russian FPV drone taking out a Ukrainian Uncrewed Surface Vessel [USV] in what is likely the Black Sea. This marks the first documented footage of an FPV drone engaging a USV in the Ukraine conflict. 

The unmanned vessel is believed to be the Ukrainian drone Magura V. Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate [GUR], confirmed this to The War Zone upon review. Although he wasn’t initially familiar with the video, Budanov noted that the drone was lost during an assault the previous day. He also mentioned that the drone appears stationary, which is supported by the brief water trail visible in the final moments of the footage. 

Details regarding the incident remain scarce. It’s unclear if the Russian FPV drone was operated from a Russian ship or from the coast of Crimea. If it was indeed from a ship, this suggests the Russian Black Sea Fleet may be deploying FPV drone operators aboard their vessels. Budanov’s comments indicate that Russian forces have been utilizing FPV drones against Ukrainian USVs for several months. 

Russian forces destroy lost Ukrainian Magura V USV with FPV drone
Video screenshot

Suitable for coastal areas

FPV drones, though limited by range and the need for continuous line-of-sight communication with their controllers, excel when it comes to defending key coastal areas. Unhindered by terrain, their range can be significantly optimized. 

Using elevated antennas on shore and aerial relays from other drones, manned aircraft, or even aerostats can further boost their connectivity. Essentially, these drones can hunt down approaching drone boats, acting as nimble precision-guided munitions capable of chasing and destroying their targets. However, it’s important to remember that this is often harder than it appears. In the case depicted in the video, the target seems mostly stationary.

Russia boasts: FPV drone operator has killed 300+ fighters
Photo by Sergey Lantyukhov

Ukraine is changing the mindset

Recently, images surfaced on social media showcasing a Russian Ka-29 helicopter rising onto a Ukrainian Unmanned Surface Vessel [USV], armed with an R-73 infrared-guided air-to-air missile. Typically seen on fighter jets, the R-73 [AA-11 Archer] was unusually mounted on a stationary launcher on the USV, alongside an empty slot. The purpose behind mounting an air-to-air missile on a USV is still uncertain, but two leading theories have emerged. 

One theory posits that USVs could be deployed to ambush undetected aircraft at sea. This tactic, reminiscent of Cold War strategy, has historically involved doubling up on air-to-air missiles, effectively tracking and neutralizing aircraft in expansive waters. If this is indeed the case, it would mark a pioneering moment—the first-ever use of a USV in an air defense role. 

Bold naval encounter: Ka-29 chases Ukrainian USV with Archer IR AAM
Video screenshot / Twitter

Another perspective considers that the USVs might utilize R-73 missiles to target small surface vessels by tracking their heat signatures. It’s plausible to recalibrate IR-guided air-to-air missiles for surface targets—as evidenced by the U.S.-made AIM-9X Sidewinder, an R-73 equivalent, which successfully targeted a small boat after a software tweak.

Russia too

Initially, during the early stages of the war, FPV drones didn’t play a significant role in Russian tactics. However, today’s circumstances have drastically changed. In a 2023 report highlighted by Russian state media, Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced the training of an impressive 3,500 FPV drone operators. Alongside this, another 1,700 operators are currently being trained to handle various types of unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs]. Interestingly, the Russian Federation supports this effort with more than 800 educational institutions and has added 1,500 new training spots for budding operators. 

Russia made a Drone Rapid Response Unit training 150 FPV operators
Photo credit: Yandex

The training of 3,500 FPV drone operators represents a major investment by Moscow in this particular form of weaponry. This likely indicates a direct relationship between the number of operators and the vast quantity of FPV drones being prepared for deployment. 

Not to be overlooked, Maksim Sheremet, a Ukrainian and founder of DroneSpace, provided a telling insight into the market dynamics between Ukraine and Russia. In his analysis, shared in October, he noted that “Ukrainian companies manufacture around 50,000 FPV drones per month, while Russian firms produce six times that amount.” This equates to Russian manufacturers producing an astounding 300,000 drones each month.

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