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Inside Ukrainian FPV Kamikaze drone unit with ace pilot 'Darwin'

Ukrainian officials say first-person view drones are the main battle weapon for forces fending off the Russians.

Inside Ukrainian FPV Kamikaze drone unit with ace pilot 'Darwin'
Scripps News

At 21 years old, "Darwin," is an ace pilot of first-person view (FPV) “kamikaze” drones with Ukraine’s “Achilles” battalion of the 92nd Brigade. 

Darwin hunts Russian targets, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and individual soldiers. 

FPV pilots like Darwin represent the evolution of Ukraine’s war against Russia. As artillery shells and rockets run short, Ukraine’s military increasingly turns to FPV drones to help hold back the enemy’s renewed offensive, degrade Russian President Vladimir Putin's war machine and strike fear in the enemy.  

Scripps News international correspondent Jason Bellini got rare access, for over 20 hours, to Darwin and his team. They spent most of their time at a secret location just a few miles from one of the most hotly-contested sectors of the front line. 

Alexander Kamyshin, Ukraine’s minister of strategic industries, told Scripps News that FPV drones are becoming “the main battle weapon for our people.” That’s why he is leading an FPV drone production initiative that aims to produce more than a million units for pilots by the end of this year. 

Russian missile strike narrowly misses Zelenskyy while touring Odesa
Russian missile strike narrowly misses Zelenskyy while touring Odesa

Russian missile strike narrowly misses Zelenskyy while touring Odesa

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At this point, Kamyshin says the cost per kill for Ukraine’s FPV drones averages $1,700 per Russian soldier. He expects the price tag for killing an individual enemy fighter to drop to around $1,000 by the end of 2024. 

Kamyshin also noted that artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies will be integrated this year into his made-in-Ukraine FPV project.  

The hope is that AI will give FPV drones a technological advantage, making them less vulnerable to Russia’s counter-drone measures, which are constantly improving. 

Darwin personifies how this war is evolving — before our eyes. 

An upcoming episode of Scripps News’ documentary series, “In Real Life,” will focus on the first-person experiences of Darwin, a “kamikaze kid.”