Ukraine Is Preparing For Drone Attacks By Dropping Training Grenades On Its Troops
Training to respond to drones dropping munitions, as well as how t conduct those kinds of attacks, reflects battlefield trends beyond Ukraine.
At least one Ukrainian unit looks to be conducting novel dual-purpose training that lets personnel hone their skills in using small weaponized drones and allows troops below to get a very realistic understanding of this growing threat. Both sides in the current war in Ukraine have been making extensive use of commercial quad and hexacopter-type drones armed with grenades and other improvised munitions. This is a trend that goes well beyond this conflict and security forces around the world, including the U.S. military, are increasingly having to contend with it.
A video showing the apparent dual-purpose Ukrainian training regimen is now circulating on social media. Exactly where and when it was shot is not immediately clear. The clip, seen in the tweet below, shows troops advanced in a line across an open field before what looks to be practice grenade falls on one of them. Underscoring that this is said to be a drill, all the other troops drop prone when the grenade goes off, except for an individual who may be a trainer walking behind them. There is no visible sense of urgency following the detonation to indicate that this is actually a real drone attack.
The grenade appears to be a URG-N training type, which is a reusable design that has live fuze that detonates a small white smoke spotting charge. The URG-N is meant to mimic the Soviet-era RGD-5 fragmentation hand grenade, variants and derivatives of which remain in service in both Russia and Ukraine, among many other countries.
The URG-N produces no fragments when it goes off, but it's not immediately clear how dangerous it is otherwise, especially for someone right next to it, when it detonates. It is similarly unclear how any safety issues might have been mitigated in this case.
The platform used to drop the grenade is not visible in the clip. However, the footage aligns with a mountain of other videos from battlefields in Ukraine known to show commercially available quad and hexacopter-style drones that have been weaponized by adding devices to drop grenades and other small improvised munitions.
The video is interesting on a number of levels.
For one, it highlights how accurately a trained drone operator can attack a target, even a moving one, with a grenade-armed drone like this. The grenade is seen in the footage falling right next to one of the troops below, if not physically hitting them. This is in line with a regular stream of videos from Ukraine that show drones dropping grenades into the open hatches of tanks and other armored vehicles, as seen below.
This, in turn, underscores the very real threat that weaponized commercially-available drones present. The lethal blast radius of a standard RDG-5 is around 10 feet (three meters), but it is also capable of wounding individuals out to distances of some 82 feet (25 meters).
As already noted, the threats posed by lower-tier drones, including weaponized commercial designs, go well beyond the fighting in Ukraine, and even traditional battlefields. The barrier to entry to acquiring capabilities like this is also low enough that terrorist groups, organized criminal organizations, and other non-state actors, in addition to the armed forces of nation-states, are increasingly employing them in various contexts.
"I’ve been in the Army for 38 years, and in my entire time in the Army on battlefields in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Syria, I never had to look up," now-retired U.S. Army Gen. Richard Clarke, then head of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), said during a panel discussion at the annual Aspen Security Forum last year when talking about this new reality. "Now with everything from quadcopters – they’re very small – up to very large unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV], we won’t always have that luxury."
The U.S. military, in particular, after years of operations with few if any aerial threats, has been trying to play catchup to reconstitute its short-range air defense capabilities in recent years. The threat posed by drones, including mass attacks and ones involving fully-networked swarms, has been a particular driver of these efforts and the war in Ukraine has only provided additional impetus in this regard.
At the same time support from the United States, among other countries, has also been essential for sustaining and now expanding the Ukrainian military's air and missile defenses. Supplies of short-range air defenses, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems (MANAPDS), like the U.S.-made Stinger, have been key components of the larger Western military assistance effort.
Altogether, the new video showing the apparent drone attack training in Ukraine is indicative of something that will become more common as time goes on. How many countries will elect to actually drop practice grenades on their troops remains to be seen, but similar training programs could well emerge using objects that don't explode at all. The U.S. military and others are already steadily integrating mock enemy drones into training exercises, but dropping real objects certainly takes that training up to another level of fidelity.
Still, one would imagine that Ukrainian troops who go through this training on the ground will be more likely to 'look up' when out conducting actual operations.
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