In Ukraine, 1,000 soldiers are trained in combat drones by a tourism pro

The effectiveness of commercial mini-drones on the battlefield has prompted many Ukrainian soldiers to train in the piloting of these transformed devices. Impressive centers welcome dozens of soldiers every week, such as that of Kryk, in Kyiv.

Who would have imagined a year ago that thousands of tourist drones would be sent to Ukraine to drop grenades? Piloting a small camera to film one’s vacation quickly became a sought-after skill in the Ukrainian and Russian armies.

Like many of his compatriots, Anton Frolov, a resident of Kyiv, quickly became involved in the defense of his country. Before seeing Russian missiles fly over his city, he organized trips to Latin America and filmed the excursions with drones. “I love Guatemala, the wild side of this country. The images that we brought back from our travels were sublime,” says the forties.

Ukraine, which had already been able to experiment with the use of DJI models in the Donbas, has launched a major “dronization” plan. Anton Frolov wants to participate with his friend Viktor Taran and they open a training center in the capital, called Kryk – the crow, in Ukrainian – with two DJI models in hand. In April 2022, the first soldiers disembark to learn how to pilot mini tourist aircraft from a vacant lot in the suburbs.

New courses with suicide drones in Ukraine

Nine months later, it is a center in which parade the fatigues from all the brigades. “Some are from the special forces,” says Anton. Kryk has become a small company of ten people and its team has already trained more than a thousand soldiers, who meet every week in a class of forty students.

“ The training is not limited to controlling the drone. The goal is obviously to succeed in the reconnaissance or attack mission, but you also have to come back with the drone. The altitude of the drone, its distance from the enemy, and its action time are determining factors on the ground. ” The most important thing is to stay alive,” adds Anton. The proliferation of flying machines in the sky has also made pilots a target to be shot down quickly before they send grenades to military camps.

A DJI Model 300 RTK drone equipped with two shells. // Source: Anton Frolov

The courses also adapt to the evolution of combat and the demands of the armed forces. Piloting FPV models with a first-person flight view from a helmet is a priority today for the Ukrainian government, which is turning them into suicide models.

However, the only way to obtain them is to receive them from abroad. Market leader DJI refuses to be involved in the war and has banned the sale of its models in both countries since the end of April. Since then, Ukraine has relied heavily on volunteer donations and government media campaigns: in May, the army had already received 6,000 commercial models. Nearly 2300 others were purchased during the summer.

A soldier is trained in drone piloting with a direct-view helmet. // Source: Anton Frolov

Donors from all over the world

Arnaud Castaignet, an entrepreneur based in Estonia, launched an initiative called “Adopt a drone” to raise funds to buy the models requested, in particular for Kryk, Anton’s training. In one year, his association raised 280,000 euros. “Donors can name purchased drones. We have models called ‘Hong Kong against tyranny’, for example, offered by anonymous people,” says the young thirty-year-old. The other donations mainly come from Ireland, Canada, or the United States. Arnaud has already made five trips to Kyiv to deliver the products offered to Kryk and then to the brigades.

Drones were sent from Norway and Hong Kong to the Ukrainian army. // Source: Arnaud Castaignet

These training centers, real drone hubs, irritate the Russian army, which now makes them a target. “A Russian Telegram group posted a list of twelve training centers based in Kyiv. We were the first quoted,” says Anton. “We’re not going to stop there!“, he launches. “The courses for the military are obviously free, but we are now developing paid training for civilians abroad, at a distance. We can already imagine the future jobs in Ukraine, once the war is over.


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