POKROVSKE, Ukraine — A private in the Ukrainian army unfolded the rotors of a common hobby drone and, with practiced calm, attached a grenade to a device that can drop objects and was designed for commercial drone deliveries.
After takeoff, the private, Bohdan Mazhulenko, who goes by the nickname Raccoon, sits casually on the rim of a trench, as green fields pocked with artillery craters scroll by on his tablet.
“Now we will try to find them,” he said of the Russians.
For years, the United States has deployed drones in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Turkish drones played a decisive role in fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020.
But these were large, expensive weapons. Ukraine, in contrast, has adapted a wide array of small craft ranging from quadro-copters, with four rotors, to midsize fixed-wing drones, using them to drop bombs and spot artillery targets.
Ukraine still uses advanced military drones supplied by its allies for observation and attack, but along the frontline the bulk of its drone fleet are off-the-shelf products or hand-built in workshops around Ukraine — myriad inexpensive, plastic craft adapted to drop grenades or anti-tank munitions.
It’s part of a flourishing corner of innovation by Ukraine’s military, which has seized on drone warfare to counter Russia’s advantage in artillery and tanks. Makeshift workshops experiment with 3-D printed materials, and Ukrainian coders have made workarounds for electronic countermeasures the Russians use to track radio signals. The fixed-wing Punisher, a high-end military drone manufactured in Ukraine, can strike from more than 30 miles away.
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