A bewildering assortment of uncrewed aircraft can be found in the war between Ukraine and Russia. From kamikaze loitering munitions and bomb-dropping octocopters to airliner-sized surveillance aircraft, the crowded skies in this war host an unprecedented number and diversity of uncrewed aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs or, more commonly, drones.
“We are currently witnessing a drone war,” says Samuel Bendett, an expert on uncrewed systems and adviser to both the Center for Naval Analysis and the Center for a New American Security. “This is probably the first large-scale war where proprietary military and commercial drones are used so extensively.”
Crewed aircraft have done little in this conflict because air defenses, both long-range radar-guided systems and portable shoulder-launched weapons, have kept the number of sorties to a minimum. For the purposes of aerial intelligence and tank-busting airstrikes, drones have replaced jets. Abundant, easy to fly, and relatively cheap, some drones are now being operated directly by squads of ground troops and even individual foot soldiers, who use them as weapons or to survey the battlefield.
These drones are also giving us an unprecedented view of the front line in almost real time, with videos of ambushes and artillery bombardments, along with wrenching images of civilian buildings destroyed by Russian forces.
To better understand the expansive variety of drones being flown in Ukraine—and the sophisticated technology of each type—we detailed every known model on all sides of the war. We sorted them into three main categories: Rotary-wing drones, loitering-munition drones, and fixed-wing aircraft. Each has unique operational capabilities and strategic value. Combined, they represent the largest uncrewed fighting force ever used in a single conflict.
Helicopter-style rotary wings allow these aircraft to take off and land vertically, or hover to give a steady view of a target. This design is popular with consumer drones, but its capabilities also have value on the battlefield. Rotary drones typically move more slowly than fixed-wing aircraft and have shorter flight times, so troops tend to use them for short-range missions.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Ukraine | Wingspan: About 6 feet | Flight time: 40 minutes | Top speed: N/A | Powerplant: Electric
Ukraine’s Aerorozvidka—a ground force unit that started out as a group of drone volunteers—operates these large, domestically made octocopters to hunt tanks. Each is armed with a pair of two-pound RKG-1600 bombs—Soviet-era anti-tank grenades apparently fitted with 3D-printed fins to improve their aerodynamics. The fins make the grenades accurate enough to hit a target three feet across from over 900 feet away. The armor-piercing charge easily punches through a tank’s thin top armor. The drone’s success is well documented by Aerorozvidka troops, who have released a steady stream of videos showing R18s destroying Russian T-72 tanks and other vehicles.
Operator: Russia | Made in: Russia | Wingspan: 15 feet | Flight time: 60 minutes | Top speed: N/A | Power plant: Internal combustion
On April 20, Ukrainian forces shot down a KBLA-IVT robot helicopter. First produced in 2019 by the Russian company Technodinamika, the KBLA-IVT is a 700-pound uncrewed helicopter that had mostly been used as a target drone for training and testing missiles and other weapons. The KBLA-IVT shot down in Ukraine might have been more than a target. The makers say the design could be used for observational roles for tasks such as agricultural surveys, so this one might have been fitted with cameras or reconnaissance gear. It also could have been used by the Russian military to draw fire away from its helicopters, which have suffered losses from Ukrainian missiles.
Autel Evo II
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: China | Wingspan: 16 inches | Flight time: 40 minutes | Top speed: 45 mph | Powerplant: Electric
Most drones flown in this conflict are not made by military contractors but instead are repurposed consumer quadcopters. The EVO II, made by the Chinese company Autel, has a max takeoff weight of four and a half pounds, making it one of the largest consumer options available. Both sides use the Autel Evo for local reconnaissance and tactical bombing. Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region use Auto Evos to drop munitions known as Khattabka—small 30mm Vog-17 grenades that throw out lethal shrapnel up to 20 feet from the impact area. There’s another reason Ukrainian operators like the Autel: It is reportedly highly resistant to Russian jamming efforts.
DJI Mavic Series
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: China | Wingspan: 8 inches | Flight time: 31 minutes | Top speed: 29 mph | Powerplant: Electric
The Mavic series of quadcopters made by the Chinese company DJI are the most widely used drones in the conflict and are operated by both sides. At the outset of the war, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense requested that civilian drone owners donate their Mavics to the war effort, and thousands more have arrived from foreign supporters.
One of the smallest versions is the Mavic Mini, which weighs just a half pound and folds small enough to fit into a cargo pocket. Despite the drone’s tiny size, the Mini’s electronics are powerful enough to send high-quality video from two miles away. That makes these drones handy tactical scouts in urban areas, where Ukrainian forces use them to locate Russian vehicles and prepare ambushes for tank-hunting teams with Javelins and other weapons. Individual snipers use them to locate targets, and artillery units deploy Mavics when nothing larger is available.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: USA | Wingspan: About 20 inches | Flight time: Up to 55 minutes | Top Speed: 50 mph | Powerplant: Electric
After the U.S. Army banned its forces from using Chinese-made quadcopters due to security risks (the drones’ radio controls are unencrypted and the devices could potentially capture and store sensitive information that could be passed to the Chinese government) the U.S. began developing its own alternatives under a defense program known as Blue sUAS. It has sent some of these alternatives, including the Golden Eagle, to Ukraine.
The Golden Eagle resembles a consumer quadcopter, but it’s made to military standards with secure, encrypted communications and advanced computing. It has a high level of autonomy enabled by sophisticated features such as visual odometry. That system scans the ground to calculate speed, distance, and direction, allowing the drone to navigate precisely even when its GPS is jammed. It also carries a high-quality thermal imaging system that the Army says can be upgraded as technology improves.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: USA | Wingspan: 26 inches | Flight time: 35 minutes | Top speed: 25 mph | Powerplant: Electric
Skydio is another American drone built to Blue sUAS standards in response to concerns about Chinese-made models. An AI-powered engine allows consumer versions of the Skydio to fly autonomously: You can set it to follow and shoot video as you ski down a mountain or run along the beach. The military version has a few more features, like built-in obstacle avoidance, encrypted communications, and a thermal imager for night operations. Skydio has donated dozens of drones to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and has sold hundreds more to groups supporting Ukraine, who reportedly funnel them to the country’s Aerorozvidka drone-flying troops.
Fixed Wing Drones
Fixed-wing drones, which look like airplanes without cockpits, have been the most common type used by militaries. The U.S.’s MQ-1 Predator rose to prominence in the 1990s, praised (and feared) for its ability to cruise at low speed for a prolonged period while it orbits a target area and gathers information. Since then, countries around the globe have developed similar uncrewed vehicles, several of which are being used in Ukraine to follow enemy troop movements or track targets for artillery fire.
RQ-4 Global Hawk
Operator: USA | Made in: USA | Wingspan: 131 feet | Flight time: More than 34 hours | Top speed: Faster than 350 mph | Powerplant: Turbofan jet
While NATO says it will not intervene directly in Ukraine, its aircraft have been gathering information from just across the Polish border. Key among these spy drones is the USAF’s RQ-4 Global Hawk. America’s chief strategic-reconnaissance drone can survey more than 40,000 square miles in one mission, using its long radar to scan the ground in photographic detail, day or night, regardless of cloud cover. With a wingspan of 130-plus feet, the Global Hawk is larger than a Boeing 757 airliner. Hobbyist aircraft trackers have noted the distinctive flight patterns of Global Hawks near Ukraine—long loops at altitudes of 50,000 feet for prolonged periods, suggesting that they are scanning for Russian armor moving deep within the country.
Operator: Russia | Made in: Russia | Wingspan: 48 feet | Flight time: 24 hours | Top speed: 120 mph | Powerplant: Internal combustion
The Orion or Inokhodets (“Ambler”) is a medium-altitude, long-endurance drone that Russia uses mostly for reconnaissance and strike missions. It resembles America’s Predator drones, which were used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan, but is a newer platform that first flew in 2016. Orion can carry up to 551 pounds of sensors or weapons, which may include one X-50 anti-tank missile. The Orion may also be armed for air-to-air drone-killing missions, but there are no reports of it serving in that role to date. Russia operates only a handful of Orions, and it is not clear how many have flown in Ukraine. But Russia’s Ministry of Defense has released a video of the drones attacking Ukrainian troops, and reports from Russian media in March claimed the drones had destroyed six Ukrainian vehicles.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Turkey | Wingspan: 39 feet | Flight time: More than 20 hours | Top speed: 100 mph | Powerplant: Gasoline internal combustion
An icon of Ukraine’s resistance, the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 is even the subject of a popular song in the country. Its success has been no surprise; it was an effective combat drone in several previous conflicts. Bayraktars scored notable successes against Russian-made hardware flown by GNA forces in Libya and by the Turkish military against Syria. In 2020, Azerbaijan used them against Armenia, where the drones played a decisive role and destroyed hundreds of tanks. The Bayraktar TB2 is typically armed with four laser-guided MAM-L anti-tank missiles. In addition to taking out Russian air defenses and fuel convoys in Ukraine, the drones have sunk patrol boats and set ablaze an oil-storage facility at Bryansk, across the Russian border. Russia claims to have shot down at least 39 Bayraktars, but Ukraine only has 36 of them, and photographic evidence suggests that only four have been destroyed so far.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Ukraine | Wingspan: 32 feet | Flight time: 7 hours | Top speed: 100 mph | Powerplant: Gasoline internal combustion
The UJ-22, developed by UKRJET of Kyiv, resembles a light aircraft like the Cessna 172 and is used for intelligence, surveillance, and artillery spotting. Unlike crewed aircraft, it can be easily broken down and reassembled for transport, and can operate from rough airstrips. This allows it to be carried around and launched from almost anywhere, without the need for a fixed air base. So far, Ukraine has reportedly used the UJ-22 only for surveillance, but the drone has a 45-pound payload and can be armed with weapons, including a loitering munition that uses a warhead from an RPG-7 rocket and has a range of 25 miles.
Operator: Russia | Made in: Russia | Wingspan: 28 feet | Flight time: 20 hours | Top speed: 125 mph | Power plant: Gasoline internal combustion
The Forpost (“Outpost”) is a Russian-made version of the Israeli Searcher II drone. While the Searcher II debuted in 1998, the Forpost entered service 20 years later, in 2018. The Forpost’s 264-pound max payload would normally hold cameras, radar units, and other sensors, but Russia has adapted the drone to carry modified 60-pound Kornet anti-tank missiles or 50-pound KAB-20 laser-guided bombs. These munitions can reportedly hit targets from several miles away, as evidenced by a March 2022 video from the Russian Ministry of Defense that appears to show a Forpost destroying a Ukrainian multiple-rocket-launcher vehicle.
Operator: Russia | Made in: Russia | Wingspan: 17 feet | Flight time: 6 hours | Top speed: 74 mph | Powerplant: Electric
The ZALA 421-16E5 HD is a Russian commercial fixed-wing drone that is larger and more expensive than consumer models. It would typically be used for inspecting pipelines, power lines, or other industrial infrastructure. The 421 is designed to provide streaming HD video, and it can also carry a thermal imager, gas detector, or radiation dosimeter for checking levels of radioactivity, suggesting that with modifications, it could have a role in chemical and radiological warfare scenarios. It can also carry a designator to direct laser-guided weapons. Russian media suggests that the ZALA 421-16E5 is a spotter for the big guns in Ukraine. Television in Ukraine has shown it flying over artillery strikes near Mariupol.
PD-1 People’s Drone
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Ukraine | Wingspan: 13 feet | Flight time: 7 hours | Top speed: 90 mph | Powerplant: Internal combustion engine
Ukrainian drone enthusiasts built the PD-1, “the People’s Drone,” in response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. At the time, Ukrainian forces lacked tactical drones, and their supporters developed one using commercial components and advice from the military. Following the PD-1’s success, the team that created it formed a startup called Ukrspecsystems and released newer versions of the drone, as well as additional models. The PD-1 has multiple takeoff options: It can launch from a catapult, take off from a runway, or rise vertically, like a helicopter. Ukraine forces use it mostly to direct artillery fire and to track the movement of Russian forces.
Tupolev Tu-141 Strizh
Operator: Unknown | Made in: Former USSR Member States | Wingspan: 12 feet | Flight time: 60 minutes | Top speed: 680 mph | Powerplant: Turbojet
The Tu-141 Strizh or “Swift” is a Soviet-era design dating to 1974 used by both Russia and Ukraine. The sleek, turbojet-powered craft originally held a film camera to shoot stills or video—upon returning from a mission, it would parachute to the ground and offer its film canister for retrieval and development. When Ukraine reactivated its UAV stocks in 2014, the drones, which had been in storage since Soviet times, were obsolete.
But the war with Russia gave the Swift new purpose. In March, a Swift from the Ukrainian war zone flew over three NATO countries before crashing in Croatia. The explosion was large enough to damage dozens of vehicles, and Croatian investigators say the drone had been carrying a bomb. Neither Russia nor Ukraine has claimed responsibility for the incident. A second Tupolev flying bomb found in Karkhiv, in northeast Ukraine, also appears to have come from Ukraine.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Poland | Wingspan: 12 feet | Flight time: 2.5 hours | Top speed: 80 mph | Powerplant: Electric
FlyEye is a hand-launched drone made by the Polish company WB Systems that cruises at approximately 60 mph for two and a half hours. Poland has supplied these drones to Ukraine since 2017, but little is known about them—even how many exist. According to WB’s cofounder and president, Piotr Wojciechowski, the drones cumulatively fly about 250 hours every day in Ukraine, monitoring troop movements and directing artillery fire using a precise location system.
Operator: Russia| Made in: Russia | Wingspan: 11 feet | Flight time: 6 hours | Top speed: 90 mph | Powerplant: Gasoline internal combustion
The Izhmash Granat-4 (also called the Garnet-4 and Rubezh-20) is the latest in a series of tactical military drones developed by Russia. This one is designed for endurance flights, with its pusher propeller at the rear in order to give optical systems a clear forward-facing field of view. Although Russia initially used the Granat-4 to spot artillery, some carry a SIGINT (signals intelligence) package that can identify and locate radio transmitters on the ground and eavesdrop on them, recording for later analysis. It can also act as a radio relay for friendly forces.
Operator: Russia | Made in: Russia | Wingspan: 10 feet | Flight time: 18 hours | Top speed: 93 mph | Powerplant: Internal combustion
The workhorse of Russia’s drone fleet, the Orlan-10 (“Eagle-10”) has been flying since 2010. Its modular payload bay can accommodate a variety of sensors and cameras: One version captured in Ukraine housed an off-the-shelf Canon EOS DSLR. An alternative model known as Leer-3 carries an electronic warfare package that can jam radio communications, including cellphones, within a 3.7-mile radius. Unlike many drones, which are flown by remote crews, Orlan-10s can be operated directly by Russian artillery units, tightening the chain of communication between the drone pilot and those firing the guns. Ukrainian troops can recognize the Orlan by the high-pitched sound of its engine, which they say sounds like a motor scooter—a dreaded harbinger of a forthcoming rocket attack.
Operator: Russia | Made in: Russia | Wingspan: 10 feet | Flight time: 5 hours | Top speed: 93 mph | Powerplant: Internal combustion
The Orlan-30 entered service in 2020 as an upgraded version of the Orlan-10 and, like that previous drone, serves primarily as an artillery spotter. The two drones are externally similar but the Orlan-30 boasts superior electronics, including an enhanced navigation system and a precise laser-targeting system that allows artillery forces on the ground to hit targets 12 miles away with 152mm Krasnopol rounds that weigh 110 pounds each.
Quantum Systems Vector
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Germany | Wingspan: 9 feet | Flight time: 2 hours | Top speed: Over 25 mph | Powerplant: Electric
Vector, made by the German firm Quantum Systems, is a highly automated drone that requires minimal training for its pilot. It can fly like a winged aircraft or in “scorpion mode,” when it transforms into a helicopter capable of vertical takeoff and hovering—useful for maneuvering in tight urban spaces. The $200,000 Vectors are reportedly reaching Ukraine via anonymous benefactors. According to a German news source, a Ukrainian billionaire working through the Ukrainian consulate purchased at least one for a Dnipro Territorial Defense unit. Several other Ukrainian donors have ordered additional Vectors for Ukrainian forces.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Ukraine | Wingspan: 10 feet | Flight time: 2 hours | Top speed: 75 mph | Powerplant: Electric
A team from the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute designed the Spectator in 2014, making it one of the earliest products of Ukraine’s domestic drone effort. The design is manufactured by a Kyiv company called Meridian, and the drone is sometimes referred to by that name. The Spectator can land on a wheeled undercarriage like an airplane or, where no runways are available, deploy a parachute and float down. Ukraine’s State Border Guards—a law-enforcement agency similar to the U.S. Border Patrol—first operated the Spectator in 2015, and it began service in the Ukrainian Army in 2017. While early versions had a basic video camera, the current Spectator can carry day or night cameras and thermal imagers. The Spectator’s engine and propellers are so quiet that the stealthy drone is reportedly inaudible from the ground when it’s flying above 1,000 feet.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: USA | Wingspan: 9 feet | Flight time: 2.5 hours | Top speed: 47 mph | Powerplant: Electric
The Puma, made by U.S.-based AeroVironment, is a small, hand-launched, battery-powered drone that’s been used by the U.S. military since 2008. It flew in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and now the U.S. is sending them to Ukraine. The latest Puma model boasts the Mantis i45, a sophisticated sensor package with both day- and night-vision cameras as well as a thermal imager located on a gimballed mount to provide a steady view of the ground. The i45 also packs a laser illuminator that allows the drone operator to point out targets and other objects of interest to ground troops.
Operator: Russia | Made in: Russia | Wingspan: 8 feet | Flight time: 30 minutes | Top speed: 250 mph | Powerplant: Pulse jet
The Russian E95 is an aerial target used to simulate enemy aircraft during training exercises. It resembles the WWII German V1 Doodlebug in both layout and power, thanks to its pulsejet engine—a simple, low-cost design that produces a series of pulses rather than the continuous thrust of modern jets. At least one Russian E95 has been shot down in Ukraine. It is possible it was reconfigured as a reconnaissance drone—the U.S. used modified aerial targets this way in Vietnam—but it’s also possible that Russia might have used it as a decoy to reveal the position of Ukrainian air defenses.
Tupolev Tu-143 Reis
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Former Soviet Union | Wingspan: 9 feet | Flight time: 13 minutes | Top speed: Over 600 mph | Powerplant: Turbojet
The jet-powered Reis (“Flight”) entered service with the Red Army in 1976. It looks like a missile and takes off with a disposable rocket booster from a mobile launcher. This rocket-assisted takeoff allows the drone to operate from almost anywhere, with no need for a runway. After launch, the jet engine propels the drone to speeds exceeding 600 mph for a brief, 13-minute flight at low altitude, typically under 3,000 feet. Early versions scanned the earth below with a film camera or an early Russian TV system. Ukraine has deployed at least one Reis, which was shot down by Russia on April 14. Analysts suspect this might have been a decoy to help locate Russian defenses.
Operator: Russia | Made in: Russia and Israel | Wingspan: 7 feet | Flight time: 80 minutes | Top speed: 52 mph | Powerplant: Electric
The Zastava (“Pledge”) is another cooperative project between Russia and Israel: As with the Forpost, Russia licenses the design and modifies it. This one is based on Israel’s IAI Bird Eye 400 drone, first flown in 2005. Russia has been operating the Zastava, made by JSC Ural Works of Civil Aviation, since 2010; the initial agreement was for 100 units. Since then, Russian military has flown Zastavas on tactical reconnaissance missions over conflict zones in eastern Ukraine; one was shot down over Ukrainian territory in 2014, and another in 2015.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Ukraine | Wingspan: 7.5 feet | Flight time: 90 minutes | Top speed: Over 50 mph | Power plant: Electric
The Punisher is Ukraine’s low-cost tactical airstrike drone, and it typically carries a 75mm four-pound bomb that it can deliver with an accuracy of 12 feet. But it’s adaptable and can be fitted with several other types of munitions, including high-explosive fragmentation bombs and anti-tank explosives. With a maximum range of 30 miles, the Punisher can strike targets behind enemy lines, including artillery, command centers, and air defenses. According to UA Dynamics, the Punisher carried out at least 60 successful strikes early in the war.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Turkey | Wingspan: 7 feet | Flight time: 60 minutes | Top speed: Over 45 mph | Powerplant: Electric
Turkey has produced this smaller sibling of the Bayraktar TB2 since 2007. It has a seven-foot wingspan and an electric motor, that can power it to speeds up to 45 mph for as long as an hour. The Mini-Bayraktar carries either day or night cameras on a gimballed mount. Turkey previously exported the surveillance drone to Libya and Qatar, but videos taken by other drones this spring revealed that Ukraine has also obtained Mini-Bayraktars. In one video, a Mini-Bayraktar follows a Russian soldier before Ukrainian artillery fires on the troops’ position.
Operator: Russia | Made in: Russia | Wingspan: 7 feet | Flight time: 2 hours | Top speed: 75 mph | Powerplant: Electric
First unveiled in 2012, Russia’s Takion (“Tachyon”) is a flying-wing drone that the operator launches with a catapult. After its mission, the Takion deploys a parachute and floats back to earth. The drone’s versatility makes it a useful tool for the Russian Army and Russian Navy. It’s also reportedly deployed by “coastal commandos,” who use it for reconnaissance during covert landing operations, as well as to detect swimmers and other threats.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Ukraine | Wingspan: 7 feet | Flight time: 2.5 hours | Top speed: 75 mph | Powerplant: Electric
The Stork is the most common military-grade small drone in the Ukrainian military, which has been using it since 2015 (although Ukraine didn’t officially announce it until 2021). The drone has been particularly active in Ukraine’s Donbas region, where an expert on their use estimates that Storks have carried out thousands of sorties to provide aerial reconnaissance on Russian targets.
Athlon Avia A1-CM Furia
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Ukraine | Wingspan: 7 feet | Flight time: 3 hours | Top speed: Over 60 mph | Powerplant: Electric
When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, a shortage of drones on the front line galvanized Ukraine-led start-up companies and amateur drone builders to turn out craft for the military. The most successful civilian-built drone has been the Furia (“Fury”), from Athlon Avia. With a seven-foot wingspan, it’s launched by catapult and recovered by parachute. The Fury remains airborne for up to three hours at ranges as far as 30 miles. Highly resistant to jamming, it can fly above areas where Russian electronic warfare would disable or disrupt other drones. Its communications are integrated with the Ukrainian artillery fire control system, quickly transferring the coordinates of targets to gunners on the ground.
Operator: Russia | Made in: Russia | Wingspan: 4 feet | Flight time: 100 minutes | Top speed: 80 mph | Powerplant: Electric
The Eleron-3’s flying-wing design resembles a miniature B-2 bomber, with an electric pusher propeller at the rear. The Eleron (“Aileron”) first flew in 2005, but unlike many other Russian UAVs, this short-range drone was first developed for commercial use; civilian operators fly it to monitor gas pipelines and power lines, or during search-and-rescue missions. Russia’s military uses it primarily for reconnaissance.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: USA | Wingspan: About 4 feet | Flight time: 45 minutes | Top speed: Over 40 mph | Powerplant: Electric
On April 19, U.S. company AeroVironment announced that it would donate 100 Quantix drones to Ukraine. The tail-sitter design allows it to take off vertically, then rotate 90 degrees for forward flight. In practice, this gives it the versatility of a helicopter with the speed and endurance of an aircraft. Although the Quantix weighs just five pounds, it contains sophisticated navigation and data-collection systems. It is capable of surveying and mapping a 400-acre area and then returning with the data without operator assistance. Its multispectral cameras can discern camouflage from vegetation and pick up details on the ground smaller than an inch in length.
Loitering munitions, sometimes referred to as kamikaze drones, carry an explosive warhead on one-way attack missions. Unlike conventional weapons, the operator does not need to identify a target prior to launch. Once the drone is airborne, a pilot on the ground hunts for enemy objectives using onboard cameras. When the operator locks onto a target, the loitering munition crashes into the target, detonating its warhead. This type of drone allows foot soldiers to carry out long-range, precision strikes.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: USA | Wingspan: About 4 feet | Flight time: Over 15 minutes | Top speed: Over 100 mph | Powerplant: Electric
First used by U.S. Special Forces in 2011, the Switchblade is a small, silent munition that is difficult to evade. Troops fire the six-pound drone from a compact launch tube, which allows them to deploy it under cover, out of the enemy’s line of sight. Unlike a gun or missile, there is no telltale blast, flame, or smoke trail to reveal the operator’s position. Once airborne, it unfolds its wings and propeller and cruises at 60 mph. It carries a fragmentation warhead effective against soft-skinned vehicles and groups of personnel, and the drone can dive vertically into trenches and foxholes. The Switchblade 300 also has a wave-off function that allows the pilot to cancel an attack at the last second after getting a close-up look at the target.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: USA | Wingspan: About 6 feet | Flight time: Over 40 minutes | Top speed: 115 mph | Powerplant: Electric
The Switchblade 600 is a scaled-up version of the 300 that weighs six times more—about 33 pounds. The new drone was first used in 2021 and carries a powerful warhead similar to the one on a Javelin anti-tank missile. Its large, armor-piercing charge can be used against a full range of battlefield targets, including heavy tanks. And its relatively long range—about 25 miles—should make it effective against Russian artillery, although there are no confirmed uses of this new drone against Russian forces yet in Ukraine.
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: USA | Wingspan: N/A | Flight Time: 6 hours | Top speed: N/A | Power plant: Electric
This spring, the Pentagon announced that it would send 121 units of a previously unknown long-range drone to Ukraine: the Phoenix Ghost. It’s so new that analysts know little about it, and no known public images exist. Two things we do know: The Ghost can take off vertically and carry a warhead capable of destroying “medium-armored ground targets”—everything short of heavy tanks. This warhead, along with a flight time that’s expected to be around 6 hours, should make it a very effective weapon against Russian artillery.
WB Group Warmate
Operator: Ukraine | Made in: Poland and Ukraine | Wingspan: 4.5 feet | Flight time: 50 minutes | Top speed: 50 mph | Power plant: Electric
These fixed-wing aircraft are made in Poland and then fitted with Ukrainian anti-tank or fragmentation warheads. Kyiv had intended to deploy modified Warmates from its own launch vehicles and use them in tandem with its FlyEye surveillance drone, but its experts haven’t yet been able to integrate the Warmates onto the launch vehicle. Now the country’s army fires them from ground launchers, which are less mobile and take more time to set up. The drones have a range of 20 miles, and unlike many loitering munitions, they can return to base for reuse if the operator fails to locate a target.
Operator: Russia | Made in: Russia | Wingspan: 4 feet | Flight time: 30 minutes | Top speed: 80 mph | Power plant: Electric
The Zaya KYB-UAV, also known as KUB-BLA (“Cube”), is one of Russia’s newest drones, first unveiled in 2019 by a subsidiary of Kalashnikov Group. The triangular craft has a four-foot wingspan and a pusher propeller that gives it a top speed of 80 mph. The KYB can be used for reconnaissance, or as a loitering munition when it’s armed with a 6.6-pound warhead. Notably, the drone has the capability to operate autonomously after launch, using sophisticated AI to hunt and attack targets. Although at least six have reportedly been shot down over Ukraine, analysts do not yet know whether Russian troops are operating the drones in autonomous mode. If they are, it could be the first time AI attack drones have been used in combat.