How engineers influence the course of war: the confrontation of drones between the Ukrainian and Russian armies

The technological conference called Angry Birds Demo Day took place on May 22, in Lviv (the largest city in western Ukraine), with the participation of over 30 drone manufacturers who have successfully applied their developments on the front lines or have just started producing unmanned aerial vehicles. The event was organized by the team of the Dignitas charity fund and the Victory Drones project, which focuses on training and equipping UAV operators for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Within the conference, there were drone demonstration flights, presentations from UAV manufacturers, meetings with flight schools, and military personnel. (Ukrainian news website) attended the conference and tells why drones can save lives and prevent the devastating consequences of war.

Not to compensate for technical issues with lives

According to Lyuba Shypovych, co-founder of the Dignitas charity fund, Russia has been preparing for war for decades and has a well-developed military-industrial complex. Additionally, Lyuba believes that our allies were not prepared for a major land war. Therefore, Ukraine cannot win only with the help of manpower.

“We don’t have time to build up a military-industrial complex, but our engineers are creating cost-effective solutions to destroy Russian equipment worth millions of dollars. A drone that costs 300-400 dollars can strike both live forces and military equipment worth 2-5 million dollars,” explains Lyuba Shypovych.

Maria Berlinska, the founder of the Center for Air Reconnaissance Support and the head of the Victory Drones project, points out that the Russian-Ukrainian war combines the technologies of the First World War, where soldiers were entrenched in trenches, and the 21st century, where satellite reconnaissance is utilized.

“Now we all find ourselves at a moment when we understand well what is happening with us, but much worse — what is happening with Russia. Unfortunately, we have to admit that we pushed the Russians towards FPV (First Person View) drones. They showed videos of how Ukrainian troops destroyed their ‘Solntsepek’ rocket systems on their mainstream channels. Over the past few months, they have opened more than 40 training centers in various cities in Russia and started training thousands of specialists. They have direct supply from China, and they are standardizing mass production,” says Maria Berlinska.

The head of the Victory Drones project is convinced that it is the technology that determines the course of military actions. She emphasizes that the war is just beginning, and the weakest position for Ukrainians is that Russians outnumber them. According to Maria Berlinska, the most important person in Ukraine right now is not a deputy, not a minister, not a volunteer, and not even a frontline soldier, but an engineer who can create effective technical solutions.

“It is the engineers who will determine the course of the war. These are the people who know how to design. Our conference is precisely about that. We have gathered engineers in one place so that people can communicate, and exchange knowledge. Unfortunately, even after nine years of war, manufacturers often tell me about some technical solution but don’t want to share it with others. I earnestly request that you don’t do that. I understand that everyone is counting on victory, patents, and business, but now is not the time. If there is a great technical solution that can help other manufacturers, please share it,” urges Maria Berlinska.

She notes that there was a surge in drone production in Ukraine after 2014. However, the state did not support engineers financially, and there is a danger that the situation will repeat.

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“Unfortunately, only 5-6 good manufacturers have survived until the full-scale invasion. It is not possible to rapidly increase production, and during the initial months of the full-scale war, we were relying on manpower. We cannot afford to repeat this mistake now. It is necessary for the state to invest all resources not in roads, reconstruction, greening, or even healthcare. While all of these are important, we need to work on the causes, not just the consequences. If we don’t invest now, we will face a situation where the entire surge in production that exists in 2022 and 2023 will decline again because companies cannot sustain themselves on volunteer efforts for long. And we will find ourselves with very few manufacturers by the next acute phase of the war. We need hundreds of thousands of drones. They are consumable items. The more drones we have, the more of our people will survive, and vice versa,” says Maria Berlinska.

The Ministry of Defense still does not procure FPV drones

According to Lyuba Shypovych, it is premature to say that Ukraine has an unmanned aviation industry, but it is developing rapidly. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Ukraine had only a handful of manufacturers, but now, with the Dignitas Charity Foundation opening a platform to search for drone suppliers, over 200 registrations have been received for the Angry Birds campaign. Some of the manufacturers have teams of engineers, established production lines, and the capacity to produce over 100 drones per month.

According to the Ministry of Digital Transformation, the need for FPVs at the front is 200,000. However, Lyuba Shipovych says that the need is not static because when it comes to assault operations, drones are needed much more than in defense.

“There is currently a demand from the front lines, and we hope that the state will not only involve the Ministry of Digital Transformation but also the Ministry of Defense in procuring FPV drones, which are a cost-effective solution for loitering munition. The state may be slow to act, but we still need to rely on it, advocate for change, and, nevertheless, rely on our own efforts. The Ministry of Digital Transformation has taken on the role of a volunteer within the state. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Defense has not yet procured drones in the ‘micro’ class. However, I believe that our joint advocacy efforts can help in this regard,” believes Lyuba Shypovych.

The head of the Dignitas Foundation has revealed that despite all the difficulties, there is good news from the Ministry of Defense, which has included a provision for ammunition for UAVs in its procurements. Ukrainian military personnel will receive standardized ammunition for drones for the first time.

“Last week, I was on the front line, and the soldiers, who were not even sappers, were manually disassembling and assembling ammunition on the ground. We don’t know how many people are at risk while doing this. Finally, the Ministry of Defense confirmed that they have established a procurement for standardized ammunition. This is significant progress,” says Lyuba Shypovych.

She says that the state often prevents the purchase of drones because the volunteer cards that collect money are taxed. The reason is that the tax authorities are guided by Resolution 112 of 2016, which contains a list of goods that volunteers have the right to buy for the military, but it does not include drones and Starlink systems.

“For several months now, we have been urging the Cabinet of Ministers to amend this resolution and include provisions for purchases made solely by volunteers. As for the importation of drones, certain customs and tax exemptions have been implemented due to public pressure. Currently, we have a list of approximately 50 critically important components that we have compiled by surveying manufacturers. These specific parts are exempt from customs duties and value-added tax (VAT). However, although the Verkhovna Rada passed the legislation, it has not reached the customs office yet, so it is still an ongoing struggle. We are in constant communication with the manufacturers and try to help them overcome bureaucracy,” added Lyuba Shypovych.

There was no experience

Oleksiy Babenko represents the Kyiv-based drone manufacturer Vyriy. He has a team of 16 people. He demonstrated the flight of two drones — a hexacopter and a kamikaze drone. Immediately after the demonstration, several potential customers approached him.

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“We started working last year, right after the battles in the Kyiv region ended. I studied what would be effective in warfare and found out that it was drones. I didn’t know anything about them before. Now we are on the verge of starting our own mass production of hexacopters, but we already have mass production of kamikaze drones,” shares Oleksiy Babenko.

According to the manufacturer, the hexacopter he demonstrated at the conference can be considered a Ukrainian development. However, the kamikaze drones are almost identical for both Ukrainians and Russians. The only difference lies in the price.

“In Vyriy the FPV drone costs $420. I believe this is one of the lowest prices, even though we don’t compromise on quality and use only high-quality materials. The price is low because there is almost no domestic development involved. If we source the components in Ukraine, the drone becomes more expensive, but we have good logistics and can purchase them abroad,” notes Oleksiy Babenko.

Drones are ordered from Vyriy by charitable foundations and volunteers who, as Oleksiy states, can purchase dozens of drones. Additionally, there are units and brigades that also order large quantities.

“When funds are being raised, it is difficult for us to track where the drone will go, so we only work with those we trust. We want to know that the drones will definitely end up in the hands of skilled pilots,” explains the developer.

Oleksiy notes that the biggest challenge for the company was the lack of information about what works and what doesn’t. Furthermore, often the information about what works turned out to be untrue.

“You have to verify everything yourself because tasks related to sourcing or logistics can be solved, but the problem with drone development cannot. You need experience, and we didn’t have that,” added Oleksiy Babenko.

It should be noted that the Lviv Regional Military Administration became a partner of the Angry Birds Demo Day conference. The event was part of a nationwide campaign for strike copters called Angry Birds.

Originally posted on Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

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