During his last press conference in 2023, Volodymyr Zelenskyi promised Ukrainians that the state would make more than a million drones.
"We will produce a million drones next year," the president said.
He later clarified that the plan was to produce a million cheap FPV suicide drones on top of vehicles of other types.
talked with Anatolii Khrapchynskyi, deputy CEO of a company that produces electronic warfare equipment and an aviation expert involved in testing drones and electronic warfare equipment, to learn about the state of the industry and the feasibility of the task set by the president.
Why are drones increasingly being used by the military?
The military has used drones since 2014, but they were mostly for reconnaissance back then. What was the change that turned them into full-blown, high-precision weapons, and why did it happen now?
Looking back to 2014, most of the military institutions mostly sought to replace pilots on big planes with remote control at that time. Nobody expected high technology to become so democratic and produce small drones that could be used as weapons.
There was no such need back then and, perhaps, no vision for it. That is, it was for a lack not of technology but of an idea to use it to that end.
As soon as a technology appears, such as DJI Mavic or FPV drones, it is immediately used, both for dropping explosives and for reconnaissance.
It had already been there before the full-scale invasion, but nobody considered it to be so promising. However, it could have been considered even in 2014.
In the first days after the full-scale invasion, many were amazed to see the results of the Bayraktar TB2 drone operation. Why don’t we see them now?
They haven’t disappeared, in fact, and they can still be used, even as carriers of FPV drones.
But the application of the Bayraktar TB2 is changing now.
Each weapon system is intended for a specific task. Hostilities are in their active phase now. As long as we have some capability, we use it. And when it is no longer advantageous and cannot accomplish its missions, we drop it and look for something else.
Who draws up the plans for the development of drones and other technologies in the military?
How is it done in practice? Who says that we need a new plan for using technology?
We do it through productive, direct communication with the military. We do our analysis and come up with propositions, looking a few steps ahead.
What happens now on the battlefield in Ukraine is the creation of new technology-based combat tactics, and this is where we cannot rely on our partners too much. It’s they who learn from us.
Speaking of the Russians, most of the equipment they use was developed in the Soviet era. Whatever high technology they have comes from China or Iran with its Shahed-136 drones.
However, it’s up to the government whether we manage to apply the new strategy before someone else does based on our experience.
What’s wrong with Mariia Berlinska’s predictions: watch the full interview (video)
A revolution has happened in 2022, as the military use to say. The Ukrainian forces started using small and cheap FPV suicide drones, and it changed the battlefield drastically. However, the Russians quickly learned to use this technology too. Today, means of electronic warfare (EW) are at the forefront. Are there promising developments that can protect our soldiers here?
It’s quite clear that, as we used FPV drones, the Russians were striving to step up EW and preparing a matching response. That’s why we had to think about electronic warfare two years ago to forecast the need for it in a year. This, again, is predicting the directions of further technological development.
During the last year, the number of companies working with EW has grown. The solutions our specialists offer are actually much more advanced than most western developments.
This is because our electronic warfare equipment is much more compact. We understand that a large EW system cannot protect and creates difficulties because it is easily detectable. It immediately becomes a target for artillery.
Therefore, most of the equipment we develop is small devices that protect the troops at the tactical and operational levels. They protect equipment and a certain area due to their directional action.
Thus, a layered defense system is created, which makes up a system for countering enemy drones. The only question is scaling, that is, increasing the number of products.
What are the main difficulties that EW and drone manufacturers encounter?
What problems do manufacturers mainly have now?
The main problem is obtaining components, because most components are dual-purpose and individuals are simply not allowed to buy them.
It is also extremely difficult to find replacements for Chinese components, so there may still be problems with supply.
Does the government help manufacturers?
We repeatedly say that a system has to be established that would purchase all components and directly distribute them to manufacturers. This would help avoid nuisances with customs clearance and taxes.
The system of obtaining codifications from the Ministry of Defense has been significantly simplified. Obtaining codification is much easier now than it was at the beginning of the year .
The main task for the Ministry of Defense is to be a kind of amplifier. They understand what the personnel need.
Is it feasible to produce a million drones in 2024?
How realistic do you think the president’s pledge to produce a million drones this year is?
There is a thing called a process chart, which outlines the time, staff, and production cycle required for any product.
As for producing a million drones, the task isn’t difficult, considering that there are approximately 300 companies in Ukraine that produce drones of different types. This means about 3,000+ FPV drones per company, which is quite feasible. But again, if the government… at least doesn’t impede, and ideally, helps with components. Because most of our victories in this war are due to personnel and volunteers.
Therefore, if you want a million drones, you need to import components for them. There are a number of platforms that could take up the task: Brave1, the Army of Drones, or the Ministry for Strategic Industries. Import them and create a hub for delivering components from different countries.
Are drones the primary weapons of this war?
What do you think of the somewhat apocalyptic predictions by Mariia Berlinska, who says that we may lose the war for the lack of drones?
The public still widely sees a war as a crowd fighting a crowd. However, it is high technology and stratagems that decide the outcome of modern wars. How many ships does Russia currently have deployed in the Black Sea?
We always say that we need more drones and more weapons, and it is right. But we shouldn’t forget about combat tactics. We can simply choke their logistics. Cut out our neighbor’s water supply and plug his sewer, and it will make him retreat.
Nobody could imagine Baltic countries coming up to us and asking, "Please teach us to work in mobile teams against drones. How did you invent it?"
Ukraine has a chance to become much more powerful in terms of defense, even surpassing Israel.
We need to beef up the development of medium- and long-range UAVs because Western partners won’t give us missiles.
Because when we receive F-16s, we will need to ask for JDAMs to target Crimea. Because our Storm Shadow missiles cannot be attached to F-16 jets as they are designed for Eurofighters.
We need to create our own long-range UAVs that can fly 1,000 kilometers to overload Russian air defenses.
Have we entered this arms race? Who is the forerunner now, we or the Russians?
Let’s put it this way: we’re ahead in technology and the Russians in quantity. They really have a lot of this, and they can afford it because they have a tsar to tell them, and they eagerly obey.
However, we have a bunch of companies that strive for victory and work to achieve it. That’s why we really have more prospects than they do.