Enterprising Ukrainian soldiers are using modified World War II-era hand grenades dropped from mini-drones, an innovative tactic that is reportedly damaging and destroying advancing Russian armored vehicles.
Interestingly, the grenades themselves were originally made in the Soviet Union to use against German tanks toward the end of World War II.
“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 at the CIA, told The National Interest in an interview.
Mears explained that Soviet soldiers had to be close enough to the tank to throw the grenade which usually placed them 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).
However, following the arrival of the RPG, the Soviet Union 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.”
Attacking Russian forces with grenades dropped from drones is precisely the kind of asymmetrical advantage Ukrainians have leveraged against a larger mechanized adversary. Dispersed groups of dismounted Ukrainian soldiers could use terrain or buildings to their advantage to launch attack drones armed with grenades from obscure or hidden positions.
It is not clear how many countermeasures, sensors, reactive armor, or active protection systems Russian tanks have but it is widely known that they are more vulnerable to airborne attacks. A small hand-launched drone could simply drop explosives from the sky above Russian armored vehicles without placing Ukrainian soldiers directly at risk. Given the large numbers of these left-over grenades, they may serve as a long-term supply of ammunition to support drone attacks.
These grenade-armed drones can likely be integrated with NATO and U.S.-provided drones such as the SwitchBlade and Puma. Much like the grenade-armed drones, the SwitchBlade is a mini-attack drone that can become an explosive airborne device.
“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 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 Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.