Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

The drone war in Ukraine is cheap, deadly, and made in China

By Faine Greenwood

16 Feb 2023 · 13 min read

Editor's Note

When it comes to deploying drones, Ukrainians and Russians both rely on a single product — the Phantom 1 — made by a Chinese company. As FP reports, neither country is pleased about the situation.

Almost a year after Russian tanks first began rolling over the border into Ukraine, a war many expected would be over within a month continues to grind on. It’s grimly reminiscent of European conflicts of the 20th century—but it’s also the first war in history where both sides have made extensive use of cheap, startlingly effective small drones, the kind that can be bought at electronics stores or built with simple hobby kits.

When Russia launched its full-scale invasion, I knew two things for sure. First, that Ukraine was going to stun the world with what it could do with small do-it-yourself and consumer drones, a skillset that their drone hobbyists and tech experts had been tirelessly expanding ever since Russia’s earlier invasion in 2014 – efforts led by now-famous volunteer drone organizations like Aerorozvidka, whose members had become some of the world’s premier experts on building, modifying, and using small, cheap drones in warfare.  Second, I knew that as an expert in both consumer and hobby drones, I was going to do my best to document what happened next.

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