Baba Yaga Is A Giant Ukrainian Drone That Drops Bombs At Night

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In the daytime, Ukraine’s explosive first-person-view drones are everywhere over Krynky. At night, the quad-rotor FPV drones disappear … and Baba Yaga emerges from her lair.

Baba Yaga is a large Ukrainian hexacopter drone with an infrared camera and capacity for a 33-pound rocket warhead. The drone’s name is a reference to a mythical witch.

Hovering over encampments at night, dropping her bombs through tree canopies, Baba Yaga haunts the Russian regiments and brigades trying, and so far failing, to dislodge Ukrainian marines who crossed the Dnipro River in southern Kherson Oblast six weeks ago and seized a bridgehead on the Dnipro’s Russian-held left bank, in Krynky.

It’s fair to say Ukraine’s drone-operators, working in conjunction with electronic-warfare specialists, are the decisive force in the Krynky operation, which has surprised foreign observers and the Russians—and has extended Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive. In other sectors, the counteroffensive ended weeks ago.

In the weeks before Ukrainian marines from the 36th Brigade motored across the Dnipro and, in a series of violent infantry actions, began pushing the Russians out of Krynky, Kyiv’s drone crews and E.W. troops worked hard to shape the battlefield.

They set up radio-jammers to ground Russian drones, and targeted Russia’s own jammers so that Ukrainian drones could operate around the clock. They established speedy kill-chains: drone-operators, intelligence analysts and artillery gunners working in tightly-coordinated teams.

One drone raid at a time, they secured local air-superiority over Krynky.

Sure, the Russian air force can pummel Krynky with 25-mile-range glide-bombs. But the air directly over the settlement belongs to the Ukrainians. “They do not allow you to approach or move away,” one Russian observer wrote. “The FPV immediately flies or the Ukrainian armed forces’ mortars are working. And if our mortar fires somewhere, everything from the Ukrainians flies there.”

“Their birds constantly replace each other, in a carousel—the noise and hum fills the whole forest,” the Russian added. “They control the roads, see people, and the FPV immediately flies into the car.”

Nighttime should offer the Russians around Krynky some respite from relentless drone-attacks. While both Ukraine and Russia have experimented with night-flying FPV drones packing tiny infrared cameras, these remain rare—mostly owing to the high cost of the cameras.

FPV drones are single-use: they strike their targets and explode. Adding a $300 infrared camera to a $500 FPV drone is a significant financial and logistical challenge, given that the Ukrainian and Russian militaries both expend hundreds of FPVs per day along the 600-mile front of Russia’s wider war on Ukraine.

But a multiple-use drone would amortize the cost of a miniature infrared camera. So it made sense for the Ukrainians to add an I.R. camera to one of their heavier six-rotor drones, such as the $12,000 Kazhan.

As the sun dips low and the FPVs come home, Baba Yaga takes flight. One Russian soldier posted a video depicting the aftermath of a recent Baba Yaga raid. Walking past two wrecked vehicles, the soldier focused on an unexploded warhead for a rocket-propelled grenade. “This is what it is dropping on us,” he complained.

Baba Yaga isn’t omniscient. She can’t see through dense trees, so sometimes she blindly drops her warheads. Ukrainian drone-commander Robert Brovdi sarcastically thanked that Russian for posting the video from the recent Baba Yaga attack. “It is often difficult for [drone] pilots to find out the results, due to the canopy of trees,” Brovdi wrote.

And Baba Yaga reportedly is loud. The Russians might know when she’s coming.

But hearing Baba Yaga is one thing. Grounding Baba Yaga is another. “The trouble is that our electronic warfare equipment either doesn’t exist, or they [the Ukrainians] just don’t care about it,” the Russian observer wrote.

“There are [radio-jamming] suitcases—they say they are quite good,” they continued. If there were jammers on every house and Russian-controlled treeline in Krynky and the operators could turn them on and off just in time to block Ukrainian drones and not block Russian drones, then “it would be a fairy tale.”

But fairy tales aren’t real. Baba Yaga, however, is all too real.

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