Ukrainian forces fighting against Russia’s invasion have begun to weaponize cheap consumer drones to fight back.
A video published by Ukrainian forces on Telegram and shared on Twitter by Rob Lee, shows the view from a civilian-grade DJI Mavic drone being controlled by the Ukrainian side to drop a bomb on Russian troops.
The video shows the drone hovering up to a spot directly over a partially destroyed building where Russian troops were gathered. As the drone reaches its position over the apparently unaware Russians, a bomblet could be seen swaying back and forth, possibly from a string or some other makeshift fastener. After a moment, the bomblet detached and fell to the ground right next to a vehicle bearing the iconic painted “Z” that Russian troops have used to denote their vehicles throughout the invasion of Ukraine. The bomblet exploded and at least one person could be seen falling to the ground while others scattered.
Ukrainian fighters resisting Russia’s ongoing invasion have already demonstrated their use of a variety of improvised weapons to fight Russian forces, including makeshift incendiary gas bombs known as “Molotov Cocktails.”
The Ukraine conflict is not the first time small civilian drone models have been used to drop explosives on enemies. As the BBC reported in 2016, the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) has employed similar drone bombing methods in the past. Earlier this year, a video surfaced showing the Jalisco Nueva Generacion Cartel (CJNG) using a civilian drone to drop multiple bomblets on a rival cartel.
Twitter users took note of the explosive device seen in this latest video from Ukraine. Some speculated the bomb could have been a modified VOG-17 grenade.
Such VOG-17 grenades are typically fired from crew-served Russian AGS-17 automatic grenade launchers (which perform a similar function to the U.S. military’s MK-19 automatic grenade launcher). VOG-17 grenades with makeshift fins have reportedly been used in fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region even before the full-scale Russian invasion.
The Ukrainian side’s use of DJI drones to carry out the attack has drawn condemnation from the company. In a statement last week, the Chinese drone maker said “we absolutely deplore any use of our products to cause harm.”
In its statement, DJI also said it does not market its drones for military use. In fact, the company had previously sold its drones to the U.S. military before the U.S. government classified the drone maker as a part of China’s military-industrial complex and assessed it has helped Chinese authorities surveil its citizens.
Earlier this week, DJI announced it would suspend all sales to Ukraine and Russia “in light of current hostilities.”
The Chinese drone maker’s opposition to their products being weaponized comes as the Chinese and Russian governments have drawn closer together in recent weeks. The Chinese government has been hesitant to call Russia’s actions in Ukraine an invasion and Chinese media outlets have circulated instructions to avoid making comments that are unfavorable to Russia or favorable to Western assessments of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.