Kamikaze Drones Take Center Stage in Russia-Ukraine War

23 Oct 2023

Kamikaze Drones Take Center Stage in Russia-Ukraine War

Kamikaze drones, also known as suicide drones or loitering munitions, are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with munitions and can be used as single-use weapons. Kamikaze drones can be human-operated or autonomous. Modern military often use them for precision strikes against high-value or heavily defended targets. In recent times, kamikaze drones have taken center stage in ongoing international conflicts such as the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Palestinian war.

According to data insights from BIS Research, the global unmanned loitering munitions market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.45% in the forecast period 2022-2033. The market value is expected to grow from $1.06 billion in 2022 to $1.83 billion in 2033.

Role in Russia-Ukraine War


Russia is extensively using kamikaze drones in the ongoing war with Ukraine and thus is one of the major players in the unmanned loitering munitions market. In April 2023, a Russian kamikaze drone, Russian Lancet-3, targeted a Ukrainian patrol boat on the Dnieper River. Zala Group, a subsidiary of the Kalashnikov Concern JSC, developed the Lancet-3. It is the most advanced version among the loitering munitions known as the Lancet family.

Following the success in drone-based missions and an estimated $12 billion market value, the Russian President announced to scale up drone production. The government rolled out production plans and facilities to scale up to manufacture up to 18,000 drones annually by the end of 2026.

As a result, many defense market players in the region geared up their production with new dedicated facilities. For instance, in May 2023, Kalashnikov inaugurated a new drone production facility. The primary focus of this facility would be manufacturing guided loitering munitions, which Moscow has extensively deployed in Ukraine.

In October 2023, Russia is developing First-Person-View (FPV) kamikaze drones with thermal imagers for night attacks to enhance their capabilities in conflict in smoke or dust. Moreover, the cost of thermal imagers considerably increases the price of FPV drones. This development reflects a more significant technological progression toward thermal-imaging-equipped drones, although affordability remains challenging.


Conversely, Ukraine depends on volunteer groups and countries for advanced unmanned loitering munitions. Many countries, such as the U.S., Turkey, and others, supported Ukraine in an ongoing war with Russia by providing unmanned loitering munitions such as Switchblade and Bayraktar TB2. The U.S. has dispatched over 1,000 Switchblade drones to Ukraine as a component of security aid of approximately $40 billion.

In September 2022, the U.S. signed a contract worth $2.2 million with AeroVironment, Inc. to supply 600 Switchblade kamikaze drones for Ukraine. The U.S. declared that the shipments being conducted fall within the framework of the U.S.' provision of security support to Ukraine, which is carried out through two authorities: the Ukraine Security Assistance (USAI) and the Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA).

As of October 2023, the Ukrainian government has increased investments in drone batteries and ground control units. Moreover, Ukraine is focused on modifying older Soviet-era drones such as Tu-141 Strizh and utilizing indigenously developed loitering munitions such as the RAM-II. RAM II was developed by Ukrainian companies, which include Ukroboronprom, CDET, DeViRo, Ukrainian Armored Vehicles, and Spaces Techno Export enterprises. Hence, with the backing of local companies and continued international interest, Ukraine is well-positioned to establish itself as a critical player in the unmanned loitering munition industry.


Kamikaze drones encounter complex challenges in their battlefield application. These systems require sophisticated recognition systems for precise target identification. The blurring lines between combatants and non-combatants may lead to unintended causalities. Achieving a balance between endurance and range is intricate; drones must linger for target identification while covering significant distances, which requires robust technology.

Moreover, miniaturization is essential for portability, demanding compact yet efficient explosives and guidance systems. Cost-effectiveness is critical; production expenses, technology, and material costs must align with reliability. Anti-drone defenses, evolving alongside drone technology, threaten kamikaze drones, demanding innovative deployment approaches. Legal and ethical concerns, integration with military tactics, reliability, data security, and environmental factors further complicate their practical use.

Future of Kamikaze Drones

The unmanned loitering munitions market is seeing substantial growth with technological advancements. Advanced sensors, such as electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) cameras and synthetic aperture radar (SAR), enable these systems to operate effectively in diverse environments and weather conditions.

Using 3D printing for designing and testing munitions expedites their development process, resulting in reduced time-to-market. Moreover, integrating artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms has improved target recognition and engagement capabilities, making them more lethal and accurate.

Watch our podcast on Defense in the Next 10 years:

Interested to know more about the growing technologies in your industry vertical? Get the latest market studies and insights from BIS Research. Connect with us at [email protected] to learn and understand more.


Twitter Feeds