How Ukraine has built an army of drones and how to sustain it – summary   

Confrontations Europe, in partnership with Eastern Circles, a Ukrainian think tank studying the links between companies and governments in the post-Soviet space, organized, on the 13th of March, an event about the emergence of the drone industry in Ukraine and the challenges encountered in its development. For the occasion, two speakers were invited, Mariia Berlinska, Director of Dignitas (Ukraine), and Henri Seydoux, CEO of Parrot (France). 

At the beginning of the war in 2014, Ukraine lacked the capacity for drone production, starting with small observation drones, due to the absence of manufacturing capabilities. From almost nothing they are up to a million of small drones per year now  but it is still not enough because Russia is faster on their side. The drone industry is vital because they cost far less than a tank but can bomb it from a distance. But Ukrainian politicians are still underestimating their importance according to Mariia Berlinska. There was a huge increase in the number of drones in a short period thanks to initiatives taken by Mariia Berlinska’s association. She’s now called Ukraine’s drones mother. A lot of Ukrainian civilians are building drones from their own kitchen. More than 50 companies were built over a year to develop drones.

The French startup Parrot, led by Henri Seydoux, met part of the need. It ventured into drone toys 15 years ago. However, about five years ago, there was a shift towards the production of small military drones in response to market demands. Although some of these drones have been sold to Ukraine through private UK channels, they were not particularly effective in Ukrainian operations. M. Seydoux personally traveled to Ukraine a year ago, meeting an active community of users and military personnel, resembling a startup environment. Therefore, the decision was made to develop a specialized drone for Ukraine, requiring a year and the collaboration of 250 people. The Russian jamming system led to the adaptation of drones to fly without GPS. Advanced algorithms and AI were employed to solve these issues, giving promising results even in jammed and snowy terrains. However, challenges persisted with other forms of jamming, requiring a software-driven response involving simulations and game theory due to the impossibility of jamming all signals.

“There are around 56 000 people trained to use drones in Ukraine. They can drive more than one million drones per year. Russia drives four times more drones than us. We need more drones and we would prefer to buy them from France than China” said Mariia Berlinska.

In conclusion, the conference highlighted the critical role that drones play in modern warfare and emphasized the imperative for rapid action in adapting to this evolving landscape. Collaboration, innovation, and a keen awareness of geopolitical realities are considered essential to effectively exploit the potential of drones.

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