Inside a consumer drone expert's den in Ukraine

Skyba modifies consumer drones to drop bombs, inflicting heavy loss on Russians

73-skyba-a-ukrainian-soldier Giving wings to bombs: Skyba, a ukrainian soldier, at his drone-modifying lab in an undisclosed location near Siversk | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

At his workshop in an undisclosed location in Siversk in the Donbas region, Skyba (call sign) of 10th Mountain Assault Brigade ‘Edelweiss’ shows me his ingenuity. The 23-year-old modifies consumer first person view (FPV) drones and videography drones to carry and drop bombs. The only requirement is that these drones need to fly close to the target.

There are hundreds of modified drones stacked at his cozy workshop. Some drones are attached with night vision cameras to carry out surveillance on Russian positions. His 3D printer is constantly printing parts needed for modifications. Special bombs that fit the drones are piled up on one end.

Skyba, according to a report in Le Monde, has a record of neutralising 600 Russians till April, but does not divulge details about the killings. “I don’t like to emphasise deaths because I don’t like killing people,” he says. “But when it comes to protecting my country, I will do everything.”

73-a-bomb-attached-to-a-modified-consumer-drone A bomb attached to a modified consumer drone | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

Russians never expected that these cheap consumer drones could damage their forces so badly and change the course of the war. Realising their impact and cost-effectiveness, the Russian military, too, has caught up with this new combat technique, and is now using modified consumer drones to attack and do reconnaissance on Ukrainian forces.

The Russians fear the drones so much that when they hear the drone noise, they frantically keep shooting at the drones, says Skyba. If they hit the drones that carry bombs, they explode in the air. If the propellers are damaged, they fall on the ground. Skyba shows a broken wing of a drone’s propeller. The drone, despite being damaged, made it back home.

According to Skyba, Russians are also using drone guns to neutralise the drones. Another technique is to use radio frequency to jam the signal from receiver. In such cases, the drones return home without completing the operation. Russia is also cutting off drones from satellites, so that they lose coordinates and drop down. But going by the number of fatalities and injuries inflicted by drones on the Russian side, the Ukranians still have an upper hand.

Usually, technologies first used in the war are later made available to the public, like jeep, walkie-talkies and packed food. Now, a consumer drone technology is altering the course of a war.