First Person View (FPV) Drones and Canadian Defence


Image credit: Reuters


by Alexander Salt
March 2024

Table of Contents


  • First Person View (FPV) Drones are highly agile and maneuverable quadcopters that are piloted using specialized immersive goggles.
  • They are used by a wide variety of actors, including civilians and violent non-state actors.
  • Their military usage during the Russo-Ukraine War, has showcased their lethality and challenged many traditional trends in defence technological procurement.  
  • Canada must significantly enhance its anti-drone capabilities to ensure a robust response to this emerging technological threat, while potentially acquiring its own FPV Drone systems.



  • FPV Drones are small quadcopters that have been adapted for military purposes.
    • They are controlled by a human pilot who guides the drone using an attached camera.
    • They were initially developed for civilian activities like competitive racing events.
    • They are much smaller and faster than most other military and civilian drones, allowing them to often avoid detection and enemy defences.
    • Their unique maneuverability allows them to physically enter buildings, trenches, foxholes, bunkers and even moving vehicles with open windows, which is something other drone systems are incapable of replicating.
    • Their mass use has posed a considerable challenge to air defence systems.
    • They are attached with an external explosive device and are commonly used in a single-use or ‘suicide’ manner leading to the drone’s destruction during an attack.
    • Many are bought off-the-shelf from civilian retailers and then militarized.
    • They are cheap to build with some variants costing as little as $300-600 USD.
  • There is concern that Western militaries are too slow integrating them into their own forces.
  • They have been used in Ukraine since the early stages of the Russian invasion; and have started to appear in other global conflicts such as in Gaza and Lebanon.
  • Camera footage from their attacks have attracted considerable social media attention and have been used as part of propaganda and information operations.
  • Ukrainian and Russian militaries have both used them during the war.
    • Ukrainian strikes often target vehicles and artillery, while Russian strikes usually target ground troops.
    • Their usage has made it difficult to operate near the frontlines during daytime, as the threat of drone strikes remains a constant fear.
    • By design, FPV drone losses are incredibly high, with as many as 5-10 000 drones destroyed every month.



  • FPV Drones have showcased significant operational successes while being employed by Ukrainian and Russian forces, quickly earning popularity among frontline personnel.
    • Their cheap cost allows troops to take considerable risks with their usage as drone losses are easily replaced.
    • It is still in the early stages of their development, and analysts are still unable to fully understand their eventual impact on military and strategic affairs.
  • There have also been constraints on their effectiveness.
    • Ukraine and Russia are developing new measures and countermeasures.
    • Electronic Warfare capabilities have been used to disrupt the connection between operators and FPV Drones in the air.
    • Some variants have limited range (around 5-10km).
  • Some of the most innovative developments have come from small companies and groups.
    • These various groups have set up ad hoc DIY workshops to build thousands of FPV Drones every month.
    • Volunteer organizations have also been heavily involved with training pilots.
    • Overall, crowd sourcing FPVs due to their cheap cost and commercial availability has become a popular procurement mechanism during the Ukraine-Russian War.
    • FPV development stands in direct contrast to Western procurement systems which relies on larger companies that have traditionally structured supply chains.
    • The rapid demand of FPV Drones also poses a challenge to procurement processes which are often slower and less adaptive.
  • Ukraine and Russia hold the most extensive operational experience with FPV Drones. NATO is largely reliant on learning lessons learned via proxy data.
    • China has expressed interest in the drones as have several other states.
    • There is a concern that terrorist groups might turn to FPV drones in the future given their widespread availability in the commercial market, including online retailers.


Insights for Canada

  • Canada’s growing participation with the NATO deployment to Latvia as part of OP REASSURANCE demonstrates a pressing and urgent need for Canada to understand the air defence threat posed by FPV Drones.
    • The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel are now within striking distance of Russian drones.
  • In February 2024, Canada announced the intention to acquire new air defence and counter-drone capabilities to strengthen its forces in Latvia.
  • However, the CAF lacks FPV Drone capabilities, and will likely require further investments in air defences beyond its current planned commitments.
    • The CAF must develop an understanding of the operational potential and limitations of this technology.
    • This should involve conducting drone centric field exercise to test their viability for the CAF and to learn better defences against them. Field exercises can allow the CAF to gain further insights beyond learning by proxy from Ukraine.
  • To offset a lack of first hand experience with FPV Drones, the CAF should leverage OP UNIFIER to gather as much knowledge as possible from Ukrainian personnel.
  • The CAF must continue updating its air defence capabilities.
    • This may involve procuring hand-held anti-drone weapons as well as other mobile systems to protect soldiers over a wider battlespace.
    • Emerging technologies may prove useful in this process, including newly developed direct energy systems.
    • Continuing to enhance anti-drone capabilities will be essential for Canada’s NATO deployment in Latvia, as well as for protecting Navy ships.
  • Canada may need to further streamline its procurement cycle and embrace a more flexible approach to acquiring off-the-shelf commercial technologies for military usage.
  • The CAF should also strongly consider the procurement of kinetic FPV Drone systems.


About the Author

Dr. Alexander Salt has a PhD from the University of Calgary's Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies and an MA in Political Studies from the University of Manitoba. His dissertation explores to what extent has the battlefield experience of the U.S. military influenced post-war organizational innovation. His research has been awarded the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada's Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Award, as well as a General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. Memorial Dissertation Fellowship. He has published research relating to international security and defence policy with Strategic Studies Quarterly, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, and The Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security, and Society. Previously, he was a Visiting Political Science Instructor with Macalester College and has also held positions with the Centre for Defence and Security Studies, as well as the Consulate General of Canada in Dallas, Texas, and the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


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