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Vlad Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, and the War in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine produced one of the most shocking tactical surprises: The effectiveness of unmanned killer drones.

Vlad Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, and the War in Ukraine

Considered the improvised nature of these weapons, they are shockingly effective. (Vlad Nepochatov photo)

It was early morning, and the Russian invaders were going about their standard routine. One soldier tended to breakfast. Their rations were a decade old and nearly inedible, so they supplemented their food with stuff they had stolen. A bombed-out civilian dwelling that had previously been some family’s home served as their headquarters. The Russians had appropriated the family car after the previous owners had been either driven away or killed.

The stolen car had a sunroof that the invading troops left open. They kept the sedan parked in the driveway and used it for administrative runs to their nearby higher headquarters. One soldier out gathering firewood first heard the noise.

Amidst the chaos of airstrikes, thermobaric weapons, and heavy artillery, one curious sound is universally feared. What this young Russian soldier heard sounded like the buzzing of a distant mosquito. He knew in an instant they were doomed.

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Wasteland
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has turned much of that once-beautiful country into a wasteland. (Mikhail Volkov photo / Unsplash)

The man dropped his firewood and shouted an alarm to his mates. The Russians scrambled in all directions seeking cover. Two soldiers dove into the stolen car intending to speed away to safety. This turned out to be a really bad idea.


Loitering above was a commercial R18 octocopter adapted by Ukrainian technicians for military use. Command was via a line-of-sight radio link. Its Ukrainian Special Forces operator was buried underneath a brush pile two kilometers away. He watched the Russians scurry about like ants through the drone’s onboard camera. Estimating the car’s movement, he tweaked the lay of the drone, calculated the time it would take his munition to fall, and hit a button.


The payload was a small Soviet-era antipersonnel grenade adapted for drone use. The Ukrainian operator had been doing this for weeks now and had gotten quite good at it. The little bomb wiggled for a moment before tracking downward and falling straight through the car’s open sunroof, no small feat on a moving vehicle.

The modest explosive detonated in a dirty grey cloud, sleeting the vehicle’s interior with high-velocity steel fragments. Within the confines of the car the effects were utterly devastating. The sedan coasted backward until it struck a fence and remained still. The doors flew open and two mortally wounded Russians tumbled out. The occupying soldiers writhed on the ground until they bled out. The viral YouTube video of the attack has been seen millions of times.

A Brave New World

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Combat Vehicles
The Russians rolled into Ukraine with hundreds of combat vehicles like this T-72. By using unconventional techniques and ample grit the Ukrainians have exacted a fearsome butcher’s bill. (Vitaly Kuzman photo / Wikimedia)

Amidst an ever-growing litany of catastrophic mistakes the Russians have made in their invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine, principal among them was trying to fight an Information Age war with Space Age technology. The Russians rolled across the Ukrainian border with more than 100,000 troops and thousands of Soviet-era tanks and support vehicles. The entire world expected the Russian forces to seize Kiev within days and the entire country within weeks. Instead, the most amazing thing happened. The small nation of Ukraine courageously fought back against the seemingly almighty Russia.

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine People Fighting
A free people fighting for their liberty can be an immensely powerful force. Here, Ukrainian citizen soldiers in the Territorial Defense run drills with AK-type rifles and “dummy” training rifles. (Drop of Light photo / Shutterstock)

The Ukrainians did not just move troops and make plans, they fought like lions with every resource at their disposal. Under the inspired leadership of former TV comedian-turned-President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the armed forces and people of the Ukraine inspired the world. Both military and humanitarian support poured in, and the Russian bear got a rude awakening to the remarkable capabilities of a brave people fully devoted to this righteous fight.




Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Destroyed War Machines
Ukraine is now littered with the burned-out hulks of hundreds of destroyed Russian war machines. Many of them fell to drone attack. (Mikhail Volkov photo / Unsplash)

Of all the tactical surprises to come out of this remarkable war, one of the most shocking has been the effectiveness of unmanned aerial vehicles. The Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone has destroyed countless air defense systems, tanks, patrol boats, and supply vehicles. The TB2 played a major role in spoofing the air defenses of the Russians’ premier battle cruiser, Moskva, ultimately allowing Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles to put her on the ocean floor.

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Russian Battle Cruiser
The Russian battle cruiser Moskva fell prey to Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles with a little help from unmanned drones. (Mil.ru photo / Wikimedia)

The word “Bayraktar” has found its way into Ukrainian culture. The country is now littered with dogs and cats bearing that name. There is even a popular folk song called Bayraktar that tosses insults at the Russians and their leadership. It is important to note that this weapon was developed with the assistance of Ukrainian engineers.

TB2 drones, though undeniably effective, cost nearly $2 million apiece. The real terror for rank and file Russian grunts is the widespread use of small commercial drones quietly sprinkling chaos across their fighting positions. The story behind these deadly killer robots and the remarkable Ukrainians who build and use them is simply fascinating.

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Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Turkish-Made Bayraktar TB2 Drone
The Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone has been a star of the ongoing war in Ukraine. It was developed with the assistance of Ukrainian engineers. (Bayhaluk photo / Wikimedia)

Origin Story

The use of inexpensive armed drones in combat really saw its genesis with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. ISIS hates pretty much everybody, and their capacity to improvise ways to kill innocent people out of common household materials never ceases to amaze. However, Daesh fighters are little more than cavemen with Kalashnikovs. The Ukrainians, by contrast, have raised drone combat to an art form.

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Inexpensive Killer Drones
The Ukrainians are working tirelessly churning out these relatively inexpensive killer drones. (Vlad Nepochatov photo)

These drones are typically either quad or octo-copters often made in China and available freely via the Internet at modest cost. The larger sorts will carry about fifteen pounds’ worth of ordnance.

Armament includes small mortar shells, improvised antitank grenades, and antipersonnel weapons. Ukrainian tech geeks improvise bomb racks and support gear using 3D printers. Inexpensive digital camera technology allows surprising resolution both day and night.

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Drone Attacks
Drone attacks have been pure death on Russian armor. (Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs photo)

Ukrainian forces are using hundreds of drones to adjust artillery, gather intelligence, and deliver munitions. As long-range artillery assets pour into the country from friendly nations the threat against the Russian invaders steadily grows. Video footage of their attacks appears online minutes after they happen.

Details

These drones come from a variety of sources. Some are even crowdfunded. Where fighter jets and main battle tanks are the purview of nation-states, a handful of like-minded Boy Scouts in Des Moines can scrape together enough cash to bring a little pain to the Russians in Ukraine.

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Train Drone Operators
Vlad’s organizations help train drone operators for combat against the Russian invaders. (Vlad Nepochatov photo)

Vlad Nepochatov is Deputy Director of UN SPIA HSDF (United Nations Soldiers of Peace International Association--Humanitarian Support & Development Foundation) and Advisor to ODSS (Organization for Development, Security & Sustainment). His sole vendors are drone manufacturers working to support the Ukrainian war effort. Coordinating with the office of President Zelenskyy, Vlad’s organization, Aerorozvidka, delivers armed drone capabilities directly into the hands of Ukrainian warfighters.

From their website, “Aerorozvidka is a team that promotes creating and implementing netcentric and robotic military capabilities for the Ukrainian security and defense forces. Aerorozvidka exemplifies the direct engagement of civil society in repelling aggression against Ukraine.”

We posed a few questions to Vlad about ODSS, Aerorozvidka and UNSPIA HSDF

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Line-of-Sight
Command of these drones is most often limited to line-of-sight. That means drone operators must move forward with the front-line combat troops. (Vlad Nepochatov photo)

Dr. Will Dabbs: What exactly does your organization do and how does it contribute to the Ukrainian war effort?

Vlad Nepochatov: The Organization for Development, Security and Sustainment (ODSS) is acting as the financing and procurement arm for Aerorozvidka. In addition, it administers bilateral programs which help train and equip different branches of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Aerorozvidka began in 2014 as a group of volunteers, drone hobbyists, and IT specialists brought together to assist the Ukrainian military with intelligence gathering at the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine. Aerorozvidka develops and manufactures proprietary drones which are deployed in ongoing operations on the battlefield. In addition, it trains its members to become drone operators, many of whom are embedded with the Ukrainian Security and Armed Forces. SPIA HSDF also helps the Ukrainian Armed Forces across Ukraine with non-lethal items such as medical, nutritional, and protective products.

Dr. Will Dabbs: What is your background and how did you find yourself in this role?

Vlad Nepochatov: I was born in Ukraine during the Cold War. When I was a child, my parents were forced to leave the USSR. From there we immigrated to Israel.

When I came of age I served in the IDF. After I finished my military service, I went to the United States to further my education. I graduated from the University of Houston with a BBA in Finance and then worked in the finance and defense industries. I lived in the US for almost 14 years before moving back to Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2012.

I was invited by the United Nations SPIA to become a Director for Technical Assistance Programs. Our mission was to assist the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies to promote reforms and capacity-building programs. In 2014, the SPIA HSDF was established, through which different assistance programs, mainly with the Ukrainian Border Guards Service, were implemented. Since then I’ve served on a volunteer basis as the Deputy Director of the SPIA HSDF. On February 24, 2022, when the war in Ukraine escalated, I volunteered for ODSS and Aerorozvidka in addition to SPIA HSDF.

Dr. Will Dabbs: What drones does your organization use?

Vlad Nepochatov: We utilize proprietary R18 drones [see sidebar] along with various commercial DJI, Autel, and Parrot designs. Many of those drones were purchased with the donations we have received. Some drones are donated directly by our fans and supporters from across the globe. 

Dr. Will Dabbs: Are your drones used more for reconnaissance or armed attack?

Vlad Nepochatov: Both. Some of our drones are used for target acquisition and artillery correction, while others drop explosives on enemy units.

Dr. Will Dabbs: What sort of ordnance do you deploy with your systems?

Vlad Nepochatov: Various VOG and HE explosives, as well as the RKG-1600. VOG rounds are adapted from those fired by 40mm underbarrel grenade launchers. The RKG-1600 is a Ukrainian adaptation of the hand-thrown RKG-3 antitank grenade. The addition of 3D-printed fins keeps the grenade oriented properly when dropped from a drone.

Dr. Will Dabbs: What are some challenges you have faced in creating these systems?

Vlad Nepochatov: The main challenges are acquiring and implementing high-quality optics and communication equipment. Since we mainly use commercial-grade drones and components, it is quite difficult to achieve the same performance and protection (encryption) as the military-grade UAVs.

Dr. Will Dabbs: How effective are the Russian countermeasures against drone activity in Ukraine?

Vlad Nepochatov: The Russians have effective electronic warfare equipment capable of detecting and jamming various forms of communications. This forces us to become very creative in both drone modifications and the operations themselves, in order to avoid their countermeasures.

Dr. Will Dabbs: Supply chains are being disrupted for varying reasons all over the world. Have your suppliers been able to keep up with demand?

Vlad Nepochatov: The supply chain disruptions affected everyone. However, most of our suppliers stand solidly behind us and the Ukrainian people. They are making every possible effort to maintain the stable provision of equipment and components.

Dr. Will Dabbs: What sort of support are you receiving from the West?

Vlad Nepochatov: On an individual basis, it’s been quite amazing. We have been receiving donations from people and businesses from around the world. On a government level, so far the most support for ODSS and Aerorozvidka has come from the Estonian Government.

Dr. Will Dabbs: You are obviously much closer to this conflict than we are in the States. What insights do you have on how the war is going? What do you see as the ultimate outcome and when?

Vlad Nepochatov: The most relevant definition of this conflict is a long-planned enslavement of Ukraine that has transformed into a modern-day genocide. The Russian military force--it is difficult for me personally to call it an army--is basically a well-equipped terrorist organization. They were not prepared to fight the Ukrainian Armed Forces but rather came to Ukraine to loot and rape the civilian population.

Currently, the war has entered a ping pong stage which consists primarily of artillery battles. Considering the size of the frontlines there are naturally many ongoing infantry battles that secure tactical gains as well. The Russians are suffering heavy losses. However, the Ukrainian Armed Forces, although on a smaller scale, are suffering significant losses and injuries as well. In order for the Ukrainians to succeed, a constant supply of proper weapons and equipment across the whole military spectrum is needed.

The ultimate outcome is the full destruction of the Russian army and liberation of the temporarily occupied territories. I hope to see the resolution of the conflict by the end of 2022. Unfortunately, a more realistic view makes me believe that this war will last much longer.

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Pressure on U.S. Political Leaders
The Ukrainians’ defense of their country is the world’s most righteous fight in a generation. It is critical that we maintain pressure on our political leaders to fully support the Ukrainians in their fight for freedom. (Gayatri Malhotra photo / Unsplash)

Dr. Will Dabbs: How can Americans help you and your people?

Vlad Nepochatov: Rather than donating to bureaucratic grant-eating entities such as the Red Cross, the American people should donate directly to any of the three bureaucracy-free organizations that are listed on our website (ODSS, Aerorozvidka and SPIA HSDF). In addition, I would ask that the American people request that their congressmen further their work on implementing sanctions towards the fascist Russian government along with continuing their full-scale support of the Ukrainian people.

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Molotov Cocktails
Ukrainians are very resourceful with high-tech and even low-tech. Ukrainian citizens shown here are making tons of Molotov cocktails in city parks. This park is located in Uzhhorod. (First Look photo / Shutterstock)

Conclusion

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Spitfire
During World War 2 British communities would band together to purchase fighter planes like this Spitfire for use by the RAF defending their homeland. (Airwolfhound photo / Wikimedia)

The war in Ukraine is unique in human history, and Vlad’s work is pivotal to Ukrainian success. During WW2 communities banded together to donate critical materials and support the war effort. There were even cases in the UK wherein communities would pool their resources to purchase big ticket items like individual Spitfires for donation to the Royal Air Force. Thanks to Information Age technology, individuals all over the world can donate to support the Ukrainians in their fight for freedom against the Russian invaders.

You can find the details on the Aerorozvidka and ODSS websites:

https://aerorozvidka.xyz

https://www.odss.ee/

PayPal donations please use link:

paypal.me/odss2402

You can follow Vlad on LinkedIn and Instagram:

Instagram: vlad_odss

Linken In: Vlad Nepochatov


Ukrainian Automated Death from Above: The Deadly R18 Octocopter

Nepochatov, Killer Aerial Robots, War in Ukraine Air-Dropped Munitions
One of the more common improvised air-dropped munitions begins life as one of these 1950’s-era hand-thrown antitank grenades. (Homoatrox photo / Wikimedia)

The R18 is an eight-rotor octocopter that has been weaponized by the mad geniuses at Aerorozvidka to deliver pain and suffering to the Russian invaders of Ukraine. The R18 is a custom-built machine created in Ukraine using both domestic and imported components. The R18 is a glimpse into the future of warfare.

The R18 has a four-kilometer range and can stay aloft for around 40 minutes. It packs a five-kilogram payload of freefall ordnance. Ukrainian technicians most commonly affix 3D-printed fins to Soviet-era RKG-3 antitank grenades to create the RKG-1600 armor-piercing bomb. The R18 can carry two of these weapons at a time.

The RKG-3 antitank grenade first entered service in 1950. Its shaped charge warhead has the capacity to defeat up to 8.6 inches of steel armor. The weapon’s top attack profile leaves most all Russian armored vehicles vulnerable to the R18.

The R18 most commonly attacks from between 100 and 300 meters above a target. Accuracy is +/- one meter from a drop altitude of 300 meters. Thanks to the R18’s thermal optics the weapon is comparably effective both day and night. Aerorozvidka prefers to employ the R18 under cover of darkness.

The R18 costs about $20,000 a piece. Ukraine has an essentially infinite supply of RKG-3 grenades. That makes the R18 an exceptionally cost-effective way to take the fight to the Russians.

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