Drones Have Been Used to Commit War Crimes—Now They’re Documenting Them

The U.S. is sending nine Skydio 2+ drones to Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General to collect photos and video of war crimes.

Skydio drone

The Skydio 2+ drone is equipped with six 4K cameras for 360-degree functionality. [Courtesy: Skydio]

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) wants to assist Ukraine in documenting wartime atrocities.

Drones, known to be a major contributor to war crimes themselves, will now be used to gather photo and video evidence of Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. USAID announced the delivery of the nine drones, donated by U.S. manufacturer Skydio, to Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General Thursday.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power tweeted out her support for the agreement, saying the drones will serve as Ukraine’s eye in the sky as it combats war crimes and human rights abuses.

The drones in question are Skydio’s 2+, which are each equipped with six 4K cameras. Built for both hobbyists and businesses, the model captures ultra high-definition video and 12 megapixel photos, around the same resolution as the average smartphone camera.

The 2+ can fly for up to 27 minutes, traveling about 3.7 sm (3.2 nm) at 36 mph (31 knots). It uses onboard artificial intelligence to fly fully autonomously with 360-degree object avoidance capabilities. The model is also equipped with Skydio 3D Scan, an inspection software that allows it to generate high-resolution digital twins of both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Skydio and USAID’s hope is that these drones help reverse some of the damage others have caused. According to the FBI, U.S. drone strikes have killed more than 1,500 civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen since 2004. Russia has also been accused of using the aircraft in violation of humanitarian law.

In fact, USAID says authorities have so far recorded more than 115,000 instances of destroyed civilian infrastructure in Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict. A pair of USAID-backed human rights coalitions discovered a further 40,000 war crimes since February 2022. Not all of these were committed by drones, but the technology has allowed Russia to conduct a series of highly publicized attacks.

In addition to delivering the Skydio drones, USAID has supplied Ukraine with Starlink data terminals donated by SpaceX, as well as laptops and software for schoolchildren and teachers. It’s also partnered with AGRI-Ukraine, an initiative to support Ukrainian grain production and exports launched in 2022. Power earlier this month announced the agency would provide an additional $250 million in support to the program, raising its total contribution to $350 million.

Jack is a staff writer covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel—and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.

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