Terminator Drones, Switchblades: How Ukraine Got Creative in Russian War

Though Russian military strength exceeds that of Ukraine in terms of military personnel, airforce, and weapons, among other areas, per CNN, the Eastern European country still has had an edge over Russia in a war that has been ongoing since late February.

Ukraine has been advancing in its use of weapons and military equipment provided by the U.S. and other allies. Equipment includes Javelin anti-tank missiles and Switchblade "kamikaze" drones, according to The Washington Post.

It has also used "Terminator drones," or commercial drones, to trick Russian soldiers into thinking that they are being chased by "Skynet"—a fictional powerful artificial intelligence network that ends humans in Arnold Shawzernegger's film series Terminator.

"This clever, creative solution that our soldiers have found not to waste ammunition, not to waste artillery shells [is]...take a commercial drone, with a camera, and camouflage it to look like something out of the worst Terminator movie," Former aide for President Volodymyr Zelensky, Igor Novikov said during an interview on MSNBC.

"So, it looks incredibly scary. Then they fly that drone around the place where the Russian soldiers are," Novikov added.

According to a recent report by IEEE, a magazine edited by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Russia has been behind in the drone war three weeks into its invasion of Ukraine which has an advantage in counter-drone technology.

The report suggested that the Russian military has not been able to achieve the same level of success in terms of performance that it did when it annexed Crimea in 2014.

However, Ukraine was able to excel in its use of drones and counter-drone forces primarily because of trade embargoes and NATO's counter-drone technology repeatedly prevented Russia from enhancing their own drones.

Counter-drone technology uses radar to detect and shoot down drones and surface-to-air missiles. This technology had to develop over the past decade because it became costly and ineffective as drone technology enhanced, according to the IEEE report.

However, counter-drone technology didn't develop in Russia because its military experienced tech embargoes and a stagnant domestic industrial base. But that was not the case with Ukraine because it was able to benefit from the combined industrial base of its allies in this war who have also greatly invested in counter-drone technology.

Ukraine didn't have any drones during the 2014 Crimea war, but it managed to assemble an advanced set of drones afterward. This fleet includes the A1-SM Fury and Leleka-100 reconnaissance drones that were designed and produced in Ukraine.

Among its impactful drones is the Bayraktar TB2 drone which was designed and produced in Turkey. A combat aerial flyer with an armament of four laser-guided bombs, the TB2 drones are meant to target and destroy tanks and they were able to destroy 26 Russian vehicles, 10 surface-to-air missile systems, and three commands posts, the IEEE report mentioned, citing data from Oryxspioenkop.com.

Terminator Drones, Switchblades in Russia-Ukraine war
Ukraine has had an edge over Russia in a war that has been ongoing since late February despite Russian military strength exceeding that of Ukraine in terms of military personnel, airforce, and weapons, among other areas. Here, Ukrainian soldiers sit on a armored military vehicle in the Donbas region, on April 7. Photo by FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images

Russia also has a diverse fleet of drones ranging from tiny flying bombs to those used in surveillance and reconnaissance, but due to sanctions that were imposed following the 2014 Crimea annexation, its military was unable to obtain important tech, such as optics and lightweight composites, that it could use to advance in the drone war.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has also been using the 100 Switchblade drones which it received from the U.S. as part of a military aid package. The Switchblades are similar in size and function to the Russian Zala Kyb, a loitering munition designed to combat remote ground targets.

Ukrainians using Switchblades, unlike soldiers using rifles, can take down Russian artillery firing from woods from a certain distance, according to the Daily Kos. For instance, 100 Switchblades, containing systems that include a launcher, controller, and 10 of the one-time-use drones, could potentially defeat 1,000 units of Russian artillery.

Newsweek reached out to the Russian defense ministry, the Russian foreign affairs ministry, and military experts for comment.