Until recently, First-Person-View (FPV) drones were the purview of hobbyists. These hobbyists used them for racing, freestyle, and cinematography. Suddenly, with the advent of the Russo-Ukrainian War, a new purpose emerged: low-cost and highly adaptable payload platforms. FPV drones and their skilled pilots have proven to be extremely dangerous. The outsized threat that they pose to armour and infantry must not be ignored (Purtill, 2024). The Australian Army urgently needs to learn these lessons and harness existing skillsets within its ranks; the Australian Army needs an FPV Drone Training Cell (DTC).

FPV drones can be built to any shape or size required. They are flown via a camera mounted on the front and the video feed is transmitted to a set of goggles worn by the pilot. They are typically flown without any of the hardware and software aids to flight stability. This is done to provide a more agile platform at the expense of requiring greater pilot skill. Traditional Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS), such as the Black Hornet 3 or Phantom 4 multi-rotor UAS, require far less pilot skill. They are intentionally designed to preference stability and ease of operation for the pilots.

FPV drones are much faster than both the Black Hornet 3 and Phantom 4 UAS. A standard racing drone and an X-Class racing drone have top speeds of 180 km/h and 300 km/h respectively. They can achieve a thrust-to-weight ratio of 13:1 by trading endurance for top speed. This excess thrust allows them to carry a wide range of payloads while retaining most of their agility and speed. As the Russo-Ukrainian War has shown, these payloads can be deadly.

The first publicised drone strike was conducted by an MQ-1 Predator in 2001. The MQ-1 launched a Hellfire missile at a Taliban leader (Purtill, 2024). At the time, the cost of a MQ-1 Predator was $40m USD and the cost of a Hellfire missile was approximately $100k USD. In recent years, precision strike capabilities now cost as little as $58k USD with the Switchblade 300 (Peck, 2023). FPV drones can now provide a similar, albeit less refined capability, for $600 USD. However, these lower costs come with a few knowledge and skill requirements.

Most FPV drones start life as a collection of parts. These parts are selected based on the desired performance characteristics of the drone. These parts are then assembled, soldered, and programmed. This requires knowledge and experience in electronics, motors, soldering, radio frequencies, and programming. Some of these skills can be easily taught in a short course. Other must be skills honed through experience. The Australian Army Drone Racing Team (ADRT) has been teaching these skills and honing their experience for several years now.

The ADRT was founded in 2017. The goal was to provide soldiers with the option to do a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sport in the form of FPV drone racing. It has since branched out into STEM engagement and cinematography. It has also assisted rapid innovation projects, UAS and counter-UAS experimentation. The core group of pilots has developed a significant depth and breadth of knowledge and experience. Their tremendous knowledge, experience and – most crucially – enthusiasm for innovation is not being properly harnessed. In the age of FPV drone warfare, this needs to change.

The idea of using FPV drones for warfare predates the Russo-Ukrainian War. Special operations teams in the United States realised the potential for FPV drones in 2018. They began asking questions about training and radio link resilience (Purtill, 2024). Separately, some ADRT members pondered the use of FPV drones in warfare in 2019. Everything came to a head in 2022 during the Russo-Ukrainian War. Our questions regarding FPV drones in warfare were answered; they absolutely can be used for warfare, and they are devastatingly effective (Zafra, et al., 2024).

For the past 2 years, we have been inundated with the horrors of the conflict. An unprecedented amount of drone warfare video footage has been uploaded to the internet. FPV drones carrying shaped charges slamming into tanks have become a common sight for both sides of the conflict. So too have videos of exhausted soldiers running for their lives from an armed FPV drone (Axe, 2024). The video footage graphically displays the reality of warfare. The effectiveness of FPV drones against personnel and armoured vehicles cannot be understated (Zafra, et al., 2024). The development of countermeasures has become a top priority for both sides.

One common method is the so-called ‘cope cage’, an additional mesh shield welded or bolted onto armoured vehicles. This attempts to trigger drones and anti-tank weapons into detonating early. Early detonation reduces the effectiveness of their shaped charge (Teh, 2023). These have proven to be ineffective against the highly agile FPV drones and their skilled pilots. These experienced pilots are able to strike at unprotected areas of the vehicle, immobilising it before more FPV drones come in for the kill.

Likewise, electronic warfare has seen limited success against them (Chulilla, 2024). They do not rely on GPS for any navigation functions. Omni-directional radio-frequency jammers proved partially successful against their command and control links. FPV drones were subsequently modified to mimic anti-radiation missiles and target the jammers (Hambling, 2023). Directional hand-held jammers have proved even harder to use. These agile FPV drones are difficult to manually track. Once acquired, FPV drone links are quite quick to regain a connection. A skilled pilot can regain control in mid-air once the drone falls and exits the directional jammer’s cone.

These countermeasures and their counter-countermeasures can only be born out of lessons learned. These lessons then need to reach a central knowledge hub. New tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) can be developed and promulgated. Higher-level changes to doctrine, training, and force structure can be informed. Equipment changes can be engineered. All of this forms part of a capability. A capability cannot exist in isolation. A capability needs supporting doctrine, logistics, training, funding, and personnel. The Ukrainians have spent the last two years developing their FPV drone capability.

The Ukrainians have created a dedicated Drone Training Centre (Wang & Horstmann, 2024). They teach a well-refined 37-day FPV drone training program. Their training program covers theoretical knowledge, basic flight skills, and tactical employment. The trainees learn everything from building, target approach and tracking, launch site selection, to munitions effects. They are constantly updating their training with real lessons learned. Incorporating these lessons may just enable the destruction of more equipment. It also may keep more of these FPV drone pilots alive and in the fight.

The Ukrainians also adapted their force structure in response to FPV drones. They created a full-fledged “drone army” with 60 new attack drone squadrons. This equates to at least one per brigade (Borsari & Davis, 2023). They are led by separate staff and commanders who understand their effects and how to best employ them. They updated their doctrine to reflect the full military potential of FPV drones. They have witnessed a revolution in drone warfare and seized the opportunity at every level.

The success of FPV drones on the Ukrainian battlefields can be partially attributed to the terrain. The relatively flat and open plains of the region are especially conducive to manoeuvre warfare. This provides plenty of opportune targets for FPV drones and very few places for those targets to hide. By contrast, the likely Australian battlefields of the future will look starkly different. Gone are the open fertile plains, replaced by islands with dense vegetation and rolling mountains. The potential for the same scale of manoeuvre warfare is greatly reduced. 

If these battlefields are so different, is there still a place for FPV drone warfare in Australia? Is there even a place for currently fielded small UAS or precision loitering munitions when the vegetation is so dense? I would posit that the true lesson from Ukraine is that adaptability is king. The innovation and adaptability demonstrated by the pilots of these platforms is going to be critical to any future war. Learning these limitations and lessons now is going to be far less painful than learning them in war.

So how does the Australian Army prepare for this? We start training enthusiastic soldiers across every unit to fly FPV drones. We teach them the theory. We teach them how to build, program, and fly them. They become proficient and drive innovation at the unit level. The unit learns the capabilities of the FPV drone and how to fight with and against them. They can refine their TTPs to suit the new threat posed by FPV drones. We don’t need to run a 37-day course (yet), but we do need to start somewhere.

We already have talented people with the knowledge and skills required to be instructors, but not enough of them. We have the demand from units for FPV drone training. What we lack is the time for instructors to conduct courses. We need to enable and resource them to conduct this training in both SERCAT 5 and 7 roles. The next large-scale conflict is potentially only a few years away. We need to properly resource these people to conduct the training to enable the units to be better prepared. The quickest way to generate the capability is to initially post a selection of ADRT members into a full-time FPV DTC.

The FPV DTC would be the hub of FPV drones for Army. They would conduct exported training at units. They would provide expert advice and troubleshooting assistance for equipment. They would assist with FPV drone experimentation where required. They would also assist with counter FPV drone experimentation. Their lessons learned would inform commanders at every level. They would aid sovereign industrial capability development by providing meaningful feedback from testing.

The current demand for FPV drone experimentation is immense. The FPV DTC would support units that specialise in test and evaluation while providing SME advice and pilots for testing. This would reduce the risk by introducing trained and experienced pilots whilst also providing the benefit of providing more accurate results through precision flying. The FPC DTC would provide advice to conventional units on offensive FPV drones, while central knowledge hub would allow us to promulgate lessons learned to all units.

The ADRT has already conducted some counter FPV drone testing. This was done in collaboration with AIM Defence and DroneShield. The testing has shown that most C-UAS systems struggle to detect, acquire, and defeat FPV drones. The only way these systems can get better is by testing. It is an innovative game of cat-and-mouse between pilots and industry. This enables incremental improvements and informs product development (Chulilla, 2024). Army urgently needs to work with its industry partners to improve these systems. It needs to happen before we need to use them for real and this is the best way to do it; a dedicated FPV DTC.

Now that we have a scope and need, how do we staff the FPV DTC? The answer is simple: The best way to initially staff the FPV DTC would be to select 8 to 10 pilots from the ADRT. They already have the skillsets required to generate an expedited training capability. These pilots would be posted into a dedicated full-time role for 2 years. This would provide enough time to train the next generation of FPV drone instructors for Army. It would allow us to prepare the next cohort to post to the FPV DTC.

The next cycle of postings to the FPV DTC would be based on demonstrated flying ability and enthusiasm for innovation. It would not be dependent on rank, trade, or ADRT membership. A rank hierarchy will still exist, adapted to the ranks posted to the FPV DTC. The exception would be the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) FPV DTC. The OIC must be an officer with a solid understanding of aviation safety and system safety. They should also have experience with these platforms to better understand the capability. These are unique but necessary requirements for the success of the FPV DTC.

A posting to the FPV DTC should not have to fit the standard career model. The average FPV drone pilot in Army sees the value deviating from the set career model to contribute to a unique capability to Army. These people tend to be strategic thinkers and innovators. Army needs to put these people in the right position, at the right time, with the right resources. By enabling and resourcing these people, Army will see a tremendous return on investment. These contributions will need to be appropriately recognised by Career Management – Army. 

There are several places within Army that the FPV DTC could call home. The Combat Training Centre could use the FPV DTC as Red Force to inform bigger picture training and help develop TTPs for Army. The School of Artillery could stand up the FPV DTC within their Surveillance and Target Acquisition Wing. The re-roled 1st Armoured Regiment could use them in their mission to trial new technologies. They could even find a home within the Robotics & Autonomous Systems Implementation & Coordination Office. 

The threat posed by the rapid proliferation of FPV drones has caught the Army on the back foot. We are currently not prepared for the threat they pose, nor are we adequately prepared and trained on how to fight with them. We have a group of extremely smart, talented, experienced, and driven FPV drone pilots. We just need Army to enable them. This is why Army needs an FPV Drone Training Cell.


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Hambling, D., 2023. How Have Ukrainian Drones Beaten Russian Jammers — And Will It Last?. [Online] 
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Teh, C., 2023. Video shows old Russian tank with a ridiculously tall 'cope cage' defense on top. [Online] 
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Zafra, M., Hunder, M., Rao, A. & Kiyada, S., 2024. How drone combat in Ukraine is changing warfare. [Online] 
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