Defending against Russian drones is expensive, but Ukraine sees the cost as worth it

By | January 3, 2023

The New York Times reports:

They are lumbering and noisy and relatively easy to shoot from the sky. Over the New Year’s weekend, the Ukrainian military said it downed every single one of the 80-odd exploding drones that Russia sent the country’s way.

“Such results have never been achieved before,” a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman said on Tuesday.

But beneath that result lies a question: How long can Ukraine sustain its effort when many of its defensive measures cost far more than the drones do?

The Shahed-136 drones used by Russia and supplied by Iran are relatively cheap, while the array of weapons used to shoot them out of the sky are much more expensive, according to experts.

Artem Starosiek, the head of Molfar, a Ukrainian consultancy that supports the country’s war effort, estimated that it costs up to seven times more to use a missile to shoot down a drone than it does to launch one. The Iranian drones can cost as little as $20,000 to produce, while the cost of firing one of the surface-to-air missiles used by Ukraine can range from $140,000 for a Soviet-era S-300 to $500,000 for a U.S.-made NASAM, or National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System.

That is an imbalance that could over time favor Russia, costing Ukraine and its allies dearly, some analysts say.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a recent overnight speech that Russia is betting on the “exhaustion of our people, our air defense, our energy sector.”

Molfar said it estimated that, since September, Russia had fired around 600 drones at Ukraine. The campaign, which gathered pace just as Moscow sustained a series of battlefield losses, has caused rolling blackouts and outages just as the country’s harsh winter has started to bite, compounding the misery caused by Russia’s full-scale invasion. [Continue reading…]

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