In a development that can’t be independently confirmed – yet nevertheless offers an ephemeral blast of schadenfreude for those so inclined – close observers of Ukraine’s military actions against Russia and its assets have said four highly valued fighter jets that were destroyed or seriously damaged at a base in Western Russia late Saturday were the victims of Australian drones made of cardboard.
The aerial attack took place when drones struck a MiG-29 and four Su-30 fighter jets – plus missile launchers and an air defense system – at a base in Kursk, about 100 km inside Russia’s border. Per usual following such operations – and despite the exceedingly high-value targets struck – Ukraine remained mum about responsibility.
That was eventually – and specifically – assigned by well-informed observers to Australian Corvo drones, whose SYPAQ maker began sending them to Ukraine in March as flat-pack systems assembled from cardboard parts, rubber bands, and lightweight onboard tech.
DroneDJ was among the first to report on Melbourne-based SYPAQ providing the cardboard drones to Ukraine to supplement the thousands of cutting-edge DJI, Draganfly, Quantum-Systems, Teal, and Teledyne FLIR UAVs Ukraine receives to battle Russian invaders.
Those Ikea-esque Aussie craft elicited a few dismissive chortles from readers at the time, but now they’re being credited with inflicting one of the worst material losses Moscow has suffered during its increasingly bleak efforts to conquer its neighbor.
Officials from Ukraine’s Security Service on Sunday first confirmed to the Kyiv Post their agency had been behind the strike. Just hours later, a prominent Russian blogger on the war followed up with a post stating “(f)or the first time, Ukrainians used Australian UAVs from SYPAQ to attack the airfield.”
A Corvo drone, he noted almost ruefully, is “made almost entirely of wax-soaked paper and rubber bands, which together makes it almost invisible to radar” – thus allowing a team of the Aussie piñatas to deliver a stupefying smack-down to Russian jets recently seen elbowing US UAVs around over the Black Sea.
Crediting Kyiv for the resounding blow to Moscow’s fighter planes – with a critical assist going to flying cardboard from Oz – was echoed on Tuesday by Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko. The diplomat’s account on the social media formerly named Twitter quoted him repeating SYPAQ drones staged Saturday’s strike.
The rich irony of Russia’s most formidable and expensive military aerial tech being blasted by something made from matter kids use to slide down grassy hills on is lost on nobody. But it also holds important lessons for the future.
Additional information contained in the Russian blogger’s post offers – if accurate – another example of how moves like Ukraine “going cheap” with $710,000 worth of cardboard SYPAQ drones will continue to further confound the huge, highly sophisticated military systems Russia, the US, China, and other major powers have been developing to face off against one another for decades.
UAVs made from materials most people consider recycling waste, equipped with minimalist electronic power trains, and – if preprogrammed and launched close enough to targets to fly themselves autonomously – emitting no detectable communication feeds are already proving evasive to fancy-schmancy military defense platforms. Expect more where that came from.
Meanwhile, their bargain-basement construction and cost mach those craft expendable enough to deploy in large numbers – greatly increasing the odds any “loss leaders” among them that are detected and destroyed will be avenged by the low-budget comrades that schlep through.
“Such a drone can carry 4-5 kg of cargo in the kamikaze version,” the Russian blogger said in reaction to Saturday’s strike on the fighter jets. “The Ukrainians used them in a heap, interspersing drones with warheads with empty drones… The protection here is standard. GPS signal jammers, Starlink frequencies, and known drone control frequencies.”
None of which managed to halt the Flying Milk Carton Squardon from completing its mission.
Little wonder, then, that the US just this week decided to launch its “Replicator” project based on thousands of fast produced, rapidly deployed, specific purpose drones, robotic vehicles, and other asymmetric “atritable autonomous systems” to supplement the nation’s traditionally massive, mighty, and decades-long military programs.