1,500 Russian troops begin drone training exercises

More than 1,500 troops from Russia's military base in the disputed region of South Ossetia have begun field exercises with the assistance of drones in nearby practice facilities, the Russian Ministry of Defence reported today.

South Ossetia has been under territorial dispute since the 1990s after local groups declared their independence from the state of Georgia. However Russia has maintained a military presence in South Ossetia and nearby Abkhazia following the conflict in 2008 between Russia and Georgia.

Now Russia has ordered its troops stationed in South Ossetia to undertake exercises which will combine the use of surveillance drones and their of small arms as well as larger weapons such as T-72BM tanks, BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles and howitzer weapons.

According to the press office of Russia's Southern Military District, which encompasses the South Ossetia base, Crimea and other territories, the exercises will make use of several types of drones to help with coordinating shooting.

"The use of unmanned drones, thanks to the modern features of photo, video [cameras] and infrared sensors, allows to effectively disclose the location of well camouflaged hypothetical foe, even in darkness," a statement from the district read.

The exercise is taking place at the Dzartsemi range in the South Ossetian base and will make use of at least four different kinds of drone available to the Russian military, including the Zastava, Orlan and Leer drones.

Soldiers will also work with the small Granat surveillance drone which the Ministry of Defence estimates helps make artillery units around twice as accurate in target practice, after tests were conducted last year.

Russia officially incorporated the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into its armed forces earlier this year, after initially signing a treaty of military cooperation following the 2008 conflict.

Ironically, fighting in 2008 was preceded by a heightening in tensions between Russia and Georgia over Georgian allegations that Russia had shot down one of its surveillance drones over Abkhazia with a military jet.

Meanwhile Russia has continued to develop its own drone programme. Earlier this year state tech contractor Rostec said the armed forces were set to receive "hundreds" of domestically made drones in the next decade.