US President Joe Biden visits US troops in Poland

Recently photos surfaced on social media of a roughly four-foot-wide tan, airplane-shaped drone that had fallen out of the sky in the Kyiv region, crashing into the sandy ground.

While that one failed to explode on impact, the images verified by The Washington Post provide some of the first evidence Russia is using a new and terrifying weapon in its war against Ukraine: a killer drone that can dive bomb into targets, destroying them with little notice.

The Russian kamikaze drones, also known as loitering munitions, will soon be joined on the battlefield by ones sent to Ukrainian forces by the United States, making the war the largest direct conflict between two countries in which they’ve been deployed on both sides. Researchers who specialise in the field say it shows that these drones are becoming the norm in modern warfare, and are likely to make the conflict more deadly and unpredictable.

“It’s going to be more of a psychological effect,” said Ingvild Bode, an autonomous weapons researcher at the University of Southern Denmark. “There’s no place to hide.”

A Russian drone launches a missile during the Zapad-2021 war games by Russian and Belarusian forces at the Mulino training ground in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Russia in 2021. AP

Russia’s February 24 invasion and the ensuing war has already been a proving ground for high-tech weaponry. Ukrainian troops have used portable antitank missiles to destroy countless Russian vehicles, while social media has been used by Russia’s government to try to muddy the facts on the ground with disinformation.

On Twitter, regular people around the world have been verifying photos of Russian troop movements and reporting them to Ukrainian authorities to aid in the war effort.

Drones have also played a key role in the war. Ukraine’s Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2, the size of a small airplane and equipped with laser-guided missiles, is wreaking havoc on Russian tanks and trucks and helping to stymie the invasion.

There’s some evidence Ukraine might also be using the Polish-produced Warmate drone – which can be reused as a surveillance drone or equipped with explosives to become a loitering munition – said Wim Zwijnenburg, a drone…