Status: 24/09/2023, 22:49 p.m.
By: Nana Brink
Drones (symbolic image). © Ukrainian President Press Office/Imago
More than 200 companies are involved in drone production in Ukraine for the war against Russia. Once it ends, the country will benefit from this industry. Also with German partners on site.
Ukrainian drones in the form of unmanned submarines hit the Russian Black Sea Fleet at a sensitive point last week. "We can now say that the ships are most likely beyond repair," a spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence said after the attack on warships at a shipyard in Sevastopol. Even though the Ministry of Defense in Moscow reported that the Ukrainian sea drones had been destroyed, Kiev spoke of a success. One more proof of the effectiveness of the Ukrainian "Army of Drones".
Last year, Ukraine became the first country in the world to integrate 60 of its own drone squadrons into its army. According to a study by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), there are "hundreds of different drone systems in service" in Ukraine, a jumble of commercial, hobby, military and other systems flown by soldiers, volunteers and civilians." The recipe for success of the "Army of Drones" lies in the ability of the Ukrainian armed forces to use these different systems in a coordinated manner for "three essential goals: surveillance and reconnaissance, propaganda, attacks and attack coordination".
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This analysis is IPPEN. MEDIA in the course of a cooperation with the Security.Table Professional Briefing – it was first published by Security.Table on September 18, 2023.
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Wide range of drones in use
The spectrum of drone types (see graphic) ranges from the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 combat drone with a wingspan of 12 meters to the American, 2.5-kilogram Switchblade and the R18 octocopter with eight rotors. The latter is Ukrainian-made and was developed by a volunteer unit called Aerorozvidka after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. The R18 is a typical example of the rapid adaptability of the Ukrainian war economy. The drones with eight propellers are simple in design, easy to maintain, and the training of the pilots takes only about two weeks.
Their use against enemy vehicles and ammunition depots is considered extremely effective. Or as an engineer from Aerorozvidka explained: "We calculated that one dollar invested in the production of an R18 drone caused $1000 in damage to the enemy. If a drone hits a tank, it has already paid for its production in one flight."
Small civilian drones from Chinese production are also considered very successful in use. These so-called first-person-view drones (FPV) are controlled by a pilot using video glasses. As "kamikaze" drones, they are used in a similar way to the R18 and are also used in other armed conflicts.
Majority of military equipment financed from abroad
More than 200 Ukrainian companies are now producing drones. Yurii Shchyhol, the head of the Ukrainian State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection, told the short message service X at the end of August: "Ukraine plans to have produced or purchased 200,000 combat drones by the end of the year."
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The basis for the boom in the Ukrainian drone industry is largely foreign donations and investments, as Ulrike Franke, one of the authors of the ECFR study, explains: "A really relevant part of military equipment is bought, developed and sent by private individuals. We haven't seen anything like this in the past." At the heart of these activities is Ukraine's Digital Minister Mykhailo Federov. The 32-year-old is considered a spin doctor of the Ukrainian drone industry. The "Brave 1" platform, which he initiated, connects foreign investors with domestic tech start-ups. In an article for the American think tank Atlantic Council, he cited the number of 400 projects, half of which had already been "tested by the military".
No surprise for drone expert Ulrike Franke: "I actually expect Ukraine to become a very relevant producer of drones when this war is over. Because you can't neglect how important it is for military technology to be able to say it's battle-tested."
German companies are testing their products in Ukraine
German companies are also active on the drone test field in Ukraine. Many of them come from the start-up scene around Munich. Quantums Systems GmbH, based in Gilching, Germany, builds civilian and military surveillance drones that specialize in battlefield reconnaissance using AI. As early as April 2022, the start-up delivered 138 Vector drones. Some of them were privately financed; The federal government has already paid 104. As the company announced at the end of May, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has ordered another 300, the financing of which will be provided by the German government. Cost per piece: 180,000 euros (as of 2022). Vector will be "intensively used and tested on the Ukrainian battlefield".
The AI defense company Helsing GmbH, which was founded three years ago and is also based in the Munich area, is also working with Ukraine. The start-up is part of a consortium tasked with providing the AI infrastructure for the Future Combat Air System. Among other things, Helsing develops software solutions that evaluate real-time images transmitted by drones. As the company confirmed, employees on the ground are "continuously" cooperating with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
In mutual interest, as Ukrainian communications chief Yurii Shchyhol emphasized in an interview with the online medium The Record: "The investments of our partners are not only in defense of Ukraine, but also in their own interests. While our partners provide us with their technology, they benefit from our experience that they didn't have before."