The images emerged on social media on Tuesday, posted by the official Twitter account of the Ukrainian armed forces. The account says that artillerymen of the 17th tank brigade had spotted the convoy attempting to cross the Siverskyi Donets river and fired upon the stricken column.
Military analyst Rob Lee said that it appeared that “multiple companies” had been destroyed - the best part of a Russian Battalion Tactical Group, the basic military unit that Russia has deployed to Ukraine.
The strength of a battalion tactical group varies, but they typically comprise about 10 main tanks and 40 armoured personnel carriers, with up to 900 supporting infantry.
The drone images appear to show that a similar number of tanks and armoured personnel carriers were trapped in a quagmire as their pontoon bridge was struck by heavy artillery fire, collapsing into the river.
Other vehicles, possibly backed up trying to cross the river, also appear to have been destroyed or abandoned as artillery fire rained down on their position.
The images are a small illustration of how commercially available drones with high resolution cameras have become vital artillery “spotters” for reconnaissance.
Combined with modern GPS guided artillery rounds, such as Ukraine’s Kvitnyk shell and the Nato Excalibur guided artillery shell, new technology has significantly increased the power of artillery.
In the past, specialist soldiers were trained in spotting enemy units, calling for artillery fire and radioing back to the artillery units to correct their fire, if inaccurate.
This role was known as a Forward Observer. But it was often a dangerous job, involving soldiers being very close to enemy units.
“Because a Forward Observer needs to have training, and needs to be able to do calculations under stress, and is himself vulnerable to being detected, the use of drones to act as Forward Observer do mitigate a lot of these risks,” Tim Zitter, an analyst with the Belgian Defence Ministry told The National.