The Rise of Tiny FPV Drones in Warfare: How They’re Used

FPV drones war

АрміяInform, CC BY 4.0 

How Small, Affordable Drones are Changing the Battlefield in Ukraine and Beyond

Recent headlines have drawn attention to the significant impact of tiny FPV (First Person View) drones in modern warfare. Articles such as “How Could A Drone Weighing Just a Few Pounds Blow up a 46 Ton Tank” from Forbes, a report from the Bulgarian Military on a Russian FPV drone pilot killing more than 300 fighters, and Newsweek’s “Ukraine’s FPV Drones Are Getting More Lethal” highlight the growing influence of these small, agile devices on the battlefield.

Colonel Ivan Pavenko of the Ukrainian army notes that the number of FPV drones on the battlefield has quadrupled. This surge can be attributed to several factors. FPV drones are lightweight, often weighing only a few pounds, and they are significantly more cost-effective than larger defense drones like the Reaper, costing about $400. This affordability and accessibility have made them a popular choice for military operations.

Unlike larger drones, FPV drones are better compared to sniper bullets, with their pilots akin to snipers. While their explosive payloads are not sufficient to destroy large structures, their precision targeting capabilities allow them to eliminate small, moving targets such as motorcyclists, individual soldiers, cars, and even tanks. This precision makes them a valuable asset in combat.  And while FPV pilots are counting up hits like snipers in previous wars, FPV drones can hit fortified targets that snipers equipped with more traditional weapons can’t.

Forbes reports that Ukrainian workshops are manufacturing up to 100,000 FPV drones monthly, most equipped with a grenade weighing about a pound. There is speculation, however, that the Ukrainian army may have developed more destructive technology for FPV drones, as evidenced by a video showing a tank destroyed by an FPV drone—an outcome unlikely with just a one-pound grenade.

The affordability and availability of FPV drones make them formidable despite their relatively low destructive power compared to larger weapons. Some FPV drones are now being equipped with up to ten pounds of explosives, according to Foreign Policy. However, there are drawbacks, including a limited range of up to six miles and lower-quality cameras, which can hinder performance at night or in adverse conditions. Moreover, while the Ukrainian military often streams successful FPV drone strikes, there are also numerous bloopers, highlighting the challenges of using these drones effectively.

Despite the drawbacks, FPV drones are playing a significant role in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine’s innovation with FPV drones helps counterbalance Russia’s larger troop numbers. This development is prompting other countries, including the US, to reconsider their investment strategies in larger, more expensive systems. While FPV drones alone are not sufficient to win a war, their strategic use is proving to be a crucial element in modern military tactics.

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