Ukraine is fielding new $3,500 'cardboard' drones against Russia — they're flat-packed and could prove deadly

Ukraine is fielding new $3,500 'cardboard' drones against Russia — they're flat-packed and could prove deadly
  • Ukraine has received hundreds of so-called "cardboard drones" from Australia.

  • The Corvo PPDS is cheap, comes flat-packed, and can be built in an hour, its maker says.

  • It's designed for reconnaissance and delivery, but may have been used to attack too.

A low-cost "cardboard" drone that arrives flatpacked and is held together with rubber bands is giving Ukraine an unexpected edge on the battlefield.

It's called the Corvo Precision Payload Delivery System, or PPDS for short, and is made by the Australian company SYPAQ.

It has been in Ukrainian hands since March, when the Australian government announced it would send at least 100 per month as part of a $20 million aid package, The Australian reported.

According to SYPAQ, the drone arrives in a package some two and a half feet long — and isn't much more complicated than an IKEA product.

But the low-tech framework is packed with a military-grade guidance system.

SYPAQ says it's quick to assemble the drone from its parts: a lightweight board frame, a propeller unit, and an avionics system which soldiers can program with a target location.

The drone can carry up to 6.6 pounds, making it useful for dropping off medicines or ammunition.

To adapt it for reconnaissance, soldiers simply "cut a hole" in the drone for a camera to see through, SYPAQ manager Michael Partridge told IT-focused news outlet The Register.

The finished build has a wingspan of around six and a half feet. It is so light it can be launched by catapult, or literally by being thrown like a giant paper plane, according to Australia's 7News.

At a reported cost of around $3,500 each, they're cheap by military standards.

A drone, made from a lightweight material that resembles carboard, in the air
SYPAQ's Corvo PPDS drone.SYPAQ

Depending on its payload, it travels at around 37 miles per hour, and has a range of up to 75 miles. And when it arrives, soldiers can simply retrieve the cargo, detach the propeller and avionics module, and throw away the frame.

Although it's known as the "cardboard drone," there's conflicting information as to what its main framework is actually made of.

Partridge told The Register that it's made of waxed cardboard — a description repeated in nearly all media reporting so far. In a recent announcement the company coyly said it's "known as the 'cardboard plane.'"

But a product specification uploaded on the company's website, likely in late August, describes it as being made from lightweight foldable foam board, which appears to match some images.

SYPAQ did not immediately respond to Insider's request for clarification, sent outside of working hours.

Cardboard is "transparent to radar, so harder to spot," Oklahoma State University drone researcher Jamey Jacob told Popular Mechanics.

"The radar will pick up things such as electric motors, batteries, and propellers, but not the cardboard," Jacob said.

That potential capacity for extra stealth gained media attention this week when Ukraine's ambassador to Australia echoed claims by a prominent Russian military blogger that they were used to attack a Russian airfield.

Several details of the attack remain unconfirmed — including whether Corvo PPDSs were even involved — but the airfield was just within the drone's reach from Ukraine.

Per the pro-Russian Telegram channel @fighter_bomber, Ukraine used a swarm-like formation of several unarmed Corvo PPDSs amidst drones packed with bombs, helping the swarm evade radar.

Outlining another potentially destructive use of the drone, the former Australian general Mick Ryan told Australia's The Age newspaper that it would be east to adapt the Corvo to carry explosives.

SYPAQ has not responded to several previous media requests for comment on whether it's been used in lethal or destructive missions, but in March Ukraine's ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko told 7 News Australia that: "I know it's been used for those purposes," without specifying further.

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