Warplanes: Grassroots Ukrainian UAV Industry


February 6, 2024: Designing and building UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) has become a national obsession in Ukraine. These UAVs are simple to build and operate and have created a popular movement to modify UAVs for friends or family members who are in the military. Ukraine expects to obtain hundreds of thousands of UAVs in the next year and use them as a primary weapon to smother Russian operations with swarms of UAVs that will not only monitor what the Russians are doing, but also quickly attack Russian activities that are a threat to Ukrainians. In areas where there are lots of UAVs, Russian troops fear moving in daylight because of armed Ukrainian UAVs. At night Russians fear being spotted by Ukrainian UAVs using heat sensing equipment. Armed UAVs are quadcopters equipped with a video camera allowing the operator to see where the UAV is and what is in the area. These UAVs usually carry a grenade connected to a quick release system. The operator can drop the explosive on a target and then return to the operator to have another explosive device attached. When equipped with a night vision camera these UAVs can search for and destroy targets round the clock. Russian soldiers are terrified of these weapons and avoid moving around at night when these systems are operating nearby.

Russia is trying to keep up with the Ukrainian use of UAVs and are heavily investing in countermeasures, like electronic warfare jammers and UAV swarms of their own. The jamming only works on UAVs that are remotely controlled. Many Ukrainian UAVs get around that by being an AI based guidance system sent against stationary Russian targets or mobile targets that can be tracked by the AI equipped sensor on the attacking UAV. The casualties caused by these armed UAVs are increasing and may soon become the major source of Russian casualties.

Ukrainian UAV developers in particular are encouraged by the government to use their imagination. There are over a hundred UAV manufacturers in Ukraine and the government is willing to take a chance on any new tech incorporated in a UAV. Whenever a promising new technology appears the government will test it and if it works, order production to begin. This initiative is a major advantage Ukrainians have over the Russians, who have to deal with multiple government bureaucracies to get anything done. That takes time and often results in promising projects being canceled or mishandled during production. This results in a crippled or useless item.

This heavy use of UAV swarms with UAVs equipped with many new technologies to guide and find targets is unique in the history of warfare and one of the principal lessons of the Ukraine War. No one expected UAVs to be such an important aspect of modern warfare. The United States has noticed this and discovered that there are no American firms that currently produce large quantities of UAVs because of federal laws prohibiting export of high tech. These laws and rules mean that some Chinese UAVs purchased by Americans cannot then be exported outside the US. That leaves Chinese firms the only major supplier of these UAVs even though China is a potential enemy. The US government must dramatically amend or abolish its ban on high-tech exports before there can be domestic suppliers of military UAVs in the desired price and performance ranges.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close