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CIA Innovation

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By Kris Osborn, President - Center for Military Modernization

Enterprising Ukrainian soldiers are launching modified World War II-era hand grenades from mini-drones to destroy Russian tanks, an innovative tactic which is reportedly further damaging and destroying advancing Russian armored vehicles.

Interestingly, the grenades themselves were originally invented by Russia to attack Nazi tanks toward the end of WWII.

“The Russians invented a hand grenade. It was a shaped hand grenade that you could throw at a tank. And if you hit it, you could knock a tank out. And that was a result of them not being able to knock out German tanks with the stuff they had,” Mike Mears, Former Director of Human Capital, CIA, told Warrior in an interview.

A Ukrainian soldier on a destroyed Russian tank near Kyiv

A Ukrainian soldier on a destroyed Russian tank near Kyiv

This proved effective to a large degree, Mears explained, however attacking soldiers throwing grenades had to be close enough to hit the tank throwing the grenade by hand, therefore placing themselves in close proximity to enemy tanks and in the line of fire. This tactical scenario, and the risk it involved, partly inspired the creation of the longer-range Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG).

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However, following the arrival of the RPG, Russia still had thousands of these small 30mm and 40mm grenades sitting around in warehouses.

“Some enterprising Ukrainian thought ……’you know, if I took these things, and I got a 3D printer and put little fins on them, and then I could take them up in a drone and drop them. What havoc I could raise in trenches and so forth,” Mears said. “Think of the innovation to do that. Nothing like that has occurred on the Russian side. Absolutely nothing.”

Drones and Grenades

Attacking from drones with these grenades is precisely the kind of asymmetrical advantage Ukrainians have found ways to leverage against a larger, heavier, mechanized Russian force. Dispersed groups of dismounted Ukrainian soldiers could use surveillance to identify approaching Russian troops and then use terrain or buildings to their advantage to launch attack drones armed with grenades from obscured or hidden positions.

Switchblade Drone

Switchblade Drone

It is not clear how many countermeasures, sensors, reactive armor or Active Protection Systems Russian tanks may operate with, yet it is widely known that they are more vulnerable to top-down attacks from the air. A small, hand-launched drone armed with a tank-killing grenade could simply drop explosives from the sky above Russian armored vehicles without placing large amounts of attacking soldiers at risk. Given the large numbers of these left-over grenades, they may be offering a long-term supply of ammunition to support drone air attacks.

These grenade-armed drones likely integrate nicely with NATO and US-provided drones such as the SwitchBlade and Puma. Much like the grenade-armed drones, the SwitchBlade is a mini-attack drone which can itself become an explosive and destroy armored vehicles below.

“The Russian playbook is up, run off left tackle, and let's play it over and over and over again, because that's in the book. And the Ukrainians are just showing incredible adaptability,” Mears said

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization