SLOVIANSK, Ukraine — An array of mostly unremarkable items stretched across two wooden tables on the far side of a cramped workshop in eastern Ukraine: double-sided tape, gloves, Allen wrenches, a soldering iron, 3-D printed plastic, ball bearings, a digital scale. Next to them was a German DM51 fragmentation grenade.
They were all important ingredients for Ukrainian troops trying to piece together a puzzle: How do you create a grenade that weighs next to nothing but can be dropped from a drone and destroy a roughly 40-ton Russian tank?
“War is an economy. It’s money,” said Graf, a stout, bearded Ukrainian soldier in charge of his unit’s drone team, who, like other Ukrainian soldiers in the war, identified himself to reporters only by his military call sign. “And if you have a drone for $3,000 and a grenade for $200, and you destroy a tank that costs $3 million, it’s very interesting.”
Since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, technological advancements on the battlefield have mostly centered on both countries’ increased use of small, remotely operated drones and their growing importance in almost every aspect of the war — including reconnaissance, correcting artillery fire and so-called kamikaze attacks.
Now Graf and his team, who have become experts at killing Russian troops with munitions dropped from the air, are trying to raise the drones’ effectiveness to the next level: by using them to deliver what they consider the perfect grenade.
The challenge is building that grenade.