Big guns and small drones have become a devastating combo in Ukraine

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PARIS — They were developed more than a century apart, but an unusual combination of decades-old and cutting edge technology — heavy artillery and remote-controlled drones — is helping Ukraine’s army make inroads into Russia’s eastern occupation,

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The cannons, howitzers and other heavy guns provided by NATO members and allies are similar to the weapons that have been battlefield staples since World War I, lobbing explosive shells farther than the eye can see. They are being used to great effect to suppress Russian positions and allow Ukrainian infantry counterattacks in the Donbas region.

Heavy artillery is typically deployed against enemy infantry and equipment. It uses an “adjusted fire” approach, meaning small changes to trajectory are made between each salvo until a target is hit. For decades, that meant armies sending personnel to the front lines and radioing instructions to the gunners several miles back.


The importance of artillery is underscored by international efforts to ship more guns and ammunition to Ukraine, with many NATO members contributing some of the newest and most advanced versions of these weapons.

But experts say Ukrainian forces are going one better by harnessing widely available drone technology to provide real-time surveillance data on Russian targets and fire their heavy weapons with unprecedented accuracy.

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“Each drone provides the opportunity to destroy enemy troops,” said Valerii Iakovenko, founder of DroneUA, a Ukrainian tech firm that advises the government on drone use.

Iakovenko said the Ukrainian military was using more than 6,000 drones, largely manufactured in China. Although varying according to model, most of the unmanned aerial vehicles are commercially available multirotor craft typically used in the media, agriculture and engineering sectors. They can operate for up to 30 minutes and as far as 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) into enemy territory.

“This is the first time ever where we see such a level of robotics used during conflict,” Iakovenko said.

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