Ukraine began reforming its military after 20144 and prepared for a mass mobilization of civilians to fight any Russian invasion. For this to work the Ukrainian military were prepared to accept and use a flood if innovative ideas from the new civilian soldiers and supportive civilians with other contributions to make. This led to something unique, the widespread adoption, modification and effective combat use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), especially the very small ones commonly referred to as drones. Many of these were commercial products purchased by soldiers and modified for combat use. For more ambitious modifications, civilian firms arose to do develop and carry out the mods for a fee. Troops could then implement these mods themselves, sometimes obtaining needed parts from a 3-D printer.
The Ukrainian government made large purchases of locally designed and manufactured drones, like the local Punisher. This is a small UAV with a wingspan of 2.25 meters (91 inches) with an operational range of 50 kilometers and cruising speed of 72 kilometers an hour (1.200 meters a minute) and can carry three kg (6.6 pounds) of weapons. Max altitude is 400 meters (1,300 feet), which is low enough for its small bombs to hit their targets consistently. Max endurance is three hours. Each Punisher costs nearly $200,000 and works with a smaller UAV that carried a high-res camera and GPS locator for the operator (using laptop software) to view and determine which targets were worth attacks with one of he up to three bombs Punisher carries and uses. Punisher can be broken down and transported in special containers and reassembled in minutes. Punisher is quiet and hard to spot. Targets are usually supply trucks or stockpiles. Punisher has been one of the most effective weapons against enemy logistics and unarmored vehicles. Fuel trucks were a popular target and the heavy losses of these led to serious and persistent mobility problems. Without fuel Russian combat vehicles cannot move. Punisher was designed, manufactured and in use before the 2022 invasion. That led to a sharp increase in Punishers purchased and used against support vehicles rather than combat vehicles and troop positions in Donbas before 2022.
More visible on the front line were less expensive, shorter-range drones that were used to observe, attack and generally make life miserable for the Russian troops. The Russian UAV situation was different with centralized control and little troops input on UAV use. Most Russian UAVs were used for surveillance and to spot targets for Russian artillery, The Russian UAVs were more frequently shot down by Ukrainian troops, who were encouraged to come up with new techniques for bringing down the Russian UAVs. Both sides used electronic jamming and other interference to disable or limit the usefulness of UAVs. The Ukrainians were quickly to produce countermeasures and distribute them to the troops.
Another innovation was the establishment of an organization to obtain cash donations from civilians who wanted to put a personal message on one of the Punisher bombs. Minimum donation was $25 but some donors sent more. The money raised went to buy more Punishers and bombs used by them.
The proliferation of UAVs among Ukrainian troops was very visible and foreign journalists noted the effective use of these UAVs by Ukrainian troops and how that further weakened and demoralized the Russians. This heavy use of drones reduced Ukrainian casualties and caused more Russian troops to lose any eagerness to attack and a growing number of Russian troops desert rather than carry out another attack. The Ukrainians encourage deserters and will take them in and get them out of the fight in a process that is usually observed by a UAV.