Russian drones are reportedly being battered by elite Ukrainian soldiers targeting the weapons with devastating missiles. A five-man crew of a surface-to-air Osa missile defence system is causing havoc to the Russian offensive on the battlefield as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops continue to face huge setbacks in the conflict. Russia has reportedly been using a number of different drones in the war, such as the terrifying Iran-made Shahed-136 type “Kamikaze” drones. But the Soviet-made K33 Osa short-range missiles are said to be dealing well with the numerous threats looming in the skies.
Hassan, a 30-year-old lieutenant of the five-man team, told The Times: “We don’t have much but what we have, we use well.” His comments came not long after the team shot down what they thought was a Russian Orlan drone, which fell too far away for the squadron to pick up the pieces.
Hassan added: “We prefer it when the enemy’s machines fall from the sky close enough so we can collect the pieces.”
This was one of just nine of the lethal Orlan-10 surveillance drones the team claimed to have shot down with its Osa missile system, and that was just in the past three months.
Hassan said: “Leave them in the sky and they will call in artillery on our soldiers. As soon as our men hear the sound of an Orlan above them, they know bad news is coming their way.”
The Orlan-10 is thought to cost around £75,000 and is equipped with infrared cameras that can catch sight of potential targets. It sends video in real-time to Russian gunmen via a cellular network, and has been used to scout out defensive positions in areas like the Donbas, Ukraine’s Defence Ministry has said.
But as they fly at relatively low altitudes, the Russian weapons leave themselves vulnerable to attack. And Ukraine is also using drones of its own to counter the Russian threat. The Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2, gifted to Ukraine by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Putin’s ally), was said to be highly effective during the initial phase of the war.
While these have been able to take out other Russian drones from the skies and batter gunboats, they are reportedly not as handy at fending off tanks.
However, Ukraine also has the US’ deadly “Switchblade” at its disposal. These have also been dubbed “Kamikaze” drones and have stunning tank-busting capabilities which can pierce heavy armour as they dive-bomb into targets.
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According to reports, the US has pledged to send at least 700 Switchblades to Ukraine, with at least 100 already arriving. But for squadrons like Hassan’s, the Soviet-era Osa, dubbed Gecko SA-8 by NATO, is the best counter-offensive weapon they have got to work with.
He said: “Our fight is all about sudden speed. It’s not the best and spares are difficult. But it’s all we’ve got.
“We live in the mud in holes beside it, getting rained on waiting, always waiting. Then if we get a sudden order on the radio from one of our early warning systems that a drone is approaching, we scramble into the vehicle and power it up.”
The six-wheeled weapon has a radar on its top and six missiles to its rear, and has an 8mile range. The unit can only keep its radar on for around two minutes or else they risk being found and targeted by a Russian anti-radiation missile.
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Hassan’s troop was stationed southwest of Donetsk, one of four Ukrainian regions which Putin has tried to annex. But that does not mean Russia is in full control, given that Ukraine has forced Russian troops to retreat in the north-east of Ukraine and in areas Putin is trying to claim to belong to him.
In Donetsk, Ukrainian forces are making significant ground as they push east, retaking the town of Lyman in a huge counter-offensive.
And Davydiv Brid, a strategically key village in the southern region of Kherson, has been liberated along with several other villages nearby.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that his troops have made “fast, powerful movements” in southern Ukraine and liberated “dozens of settlements” just this week. Other liberated villages include Lyubymivka, Khreshchenivka, Zolota Balka, Bilyaivka, Ukrainka, Velyka Oleksandrivka and Mala Oleksandrivka. Mr Zelensky added that this was “far from being the whole list”.