TechUkrainian drones: How balloons turn the tide against Russia

Ukrainian drones: How balloons turn the tide against Russia

A Ukrainian aerostat (balloon) manufactured by the company Aerobavovna.
A Ukrainian aerostat (balloon) manufactured by the company Aerobavovna.
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | Stacked Preference
Przemysław Juraszek

22 June 2024 07:14

The Russians admit that Ukrainians have become pioneers in the military use of drones, and some Ukrainian ideas are truly ingenious. We explain how Ukrainian balloons help eliminate Russians.

An interesting statement by a Russian from the front has surfaced online, highlighting the Ukrainians' advantage in the use of drones. He mentioned two particularly intriguing issues: the Ukrainians' use of FPV drones to hunt Russian observation drones and their use of balloons equipped with daytime cameras, thermal cameras, or signal boosters.

There are even bombing variants of balloons equipped with, among other things, satellite navigation, intended to drop explosive charges over specific areas.

The Russian also fears that, over time, Ukrainian FPV drones will be capable of attacking even attack helicopters. It is worth noting that, in theory, this is possible only in the case of a surprise attack, since the FPV drone stands no chance of catching up with a helicopter flying at a speed of over 200 km/h. In 2023, a recording showed a near-miss where a Ka-52 Alligator helicopter was almost shot down by an FPV drone.

Balloons as a tool to facilitate the elimination of Russians

The Ukrainians use meteorological balloons to elevate observational equipment or retransmit the control signal of FPV drones or "Baba Yaga" to a high altitude. Due to the curvature of the earth, the range of observation or radio signal transmission from ground level is limited. The simplest solution is to place, for example, a daytime or thermal camera at a high altitude, such as 9 kilometres.

This can be done using a drone, but due to the limited flight time caused by battery or fuel tank capacity, it is difficult to ensure 24/7 observation. Meteorological balloons are better suited for this task, and they are much harder to detect and destroy.

Balloons, unlike drones, have a lower thermal and radar signature, and their construction makes them very resistant to destruction. For instance, the thin material of the balloon's envelope will not detonate most fuses used in anti-aircraft missiles.

Additionally, shredding a balloon with a cannon or machine gun at high altitude will not achieve much due to the small pressure difference, as we wrote before. Simply put, the gas will escape very slowly, and although such a balloon will eventually fall, this may take many days.

Under such conditions, using a good-quality observation head and live video transmission allows Ukrainians to coordinate their artillery very well. Mounting a signal booster enables FPV drones like "Baba Yaga" to conduct bomb raids on Russian positions even more than 10 kilometres behind the front line. These drones drop mortar shells from over 100 metres while staying outside the range of most Russian field jammers.

Another advantage is the difficulty in locating the place of the control signal transmission, which increases the safety of Ukrainian drone pilots. It is worth noting that the Russians have some electronic warfare systems like the R-330Zh Zhitel capable of doing this. Then, for example, artillery shelling is directed at such a location.

Related content