Ukraine plans to purchase 200,000 drones and train 50,000 UAV operators by the end of the year — State Special Communications

Ukraine plans to purchase 200,000 drones and train 50,000 UAV operators by the end of the year — State Special Communications

According to estimates of the Royal Joint Services Institute, the Armed Forces are losing about 10,000 drones per month. However, these drones save the lives of Ukrainian military personnel. In order to ensure the necessary number of drones in Ukraine, in December 2022, the “Army of Drones” project was launched in Ukraine. Journalists of the Ukrainian Service of the Voice of America talked with the head of the State Special Service Yury Shchygol about the flourishing of Ukrainian production of drones, their export potential, as well as the training of drone operators.

The interview has been edited for clarity and flow

Maria Ulyanovska, Voice of America: Mr. Yuri, please tell us about the “Army of Drones”, what kind of project is it?

Yuriy Shchygol, head of the State Special Service of Ukraine: Last year, our military realized that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles on the battlefield gives a great advantage in terms of distance, intelligence and saving lives. Then the Ministry of Digital Transformation, the State Intelligence Service, the UNITED24 platform and the General Staff founded the “Army of Drones” project. Its task is to provide the Security and Defense Forces with the required number of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Last year, we purchased about 5,000 drones for a total of about 4.5 billion hryvnias. These were completely different drones. First of all, what are missing on the front are Mavics, Autel Evos, Matrices, as well as large professional drones and even Bayraktars. When it gave results, everyone saw that the project helps save the lives of our military, it received state support. Today, “Army of Drones” is already a state program, which received funding in the amount of 40 billion hryvnias this year. We have already contracted most of these funds, and even delivered a significant part of the drones to the front.

M.U.: Do I understand correctly that Ukrainian drones are cheaper and they are more suitable for you, because they are already adapted to military needs?

Most of the drones that are produced in the world have not been tested on the battlefield, which is currently in Ukraine.

Yu.Sh.: I wouldn’t say much cheaper. Some are even more expensive – there are cool Ukrainian reconnaissance drones that cost no less than their foreign counterparts, and they are definitely not inferior to them in terms of quality. Most of the drones that are produced in the world have not been tested on the battlefield, which is currently in Ukraine. No country in the world, even where there were hostilities, had such a large number of means of radio-electronic warfare.

All Ukrainian UAVs that we purchase are tested, first of all, under the action of EW. Therefore, after our victory, it will be the most technological Ukrainian industry in the world, which will be able to be very competitive for export.

Foreign drones make up only about 20% of our purchases. The main task is the development of the Ukrainian field of unmanned aviation. And today we already have about 80 contracts with Ukrainian manufacturers.

At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, we had only 30 manufacturers who were professionally engaged in the production of drones. Today, there are about 200 such manufacturers. And this impetus was given by the “Army of Drones”. We buy absolutely all solutions available in Ukraine, because every drone produced here has its own application, and even if it is used skillfully by one smallest unit, we will buy it.

M.U.: How did this technology change the course of warfare and why is it so important for Ukraine?

Yu.Sh.: This is a trend set for decades. This allows effective reconnaissance both at a short distance and large brigade army reconnaissance at a distance of more than 50 km.

Today, it is a high-precision weapon with an efficiency of destruction of personnel and equipment of more than 80%.

To destroy the enemy, drones are a much cheaper and more effective way. The drone can carry barrage munitions with a firing range of 20-30-40 km, they are cheaper than the high-precision munitions that our partners give us. Therefore, it also saves money.

FPV drones (first point view) were born and showed their effectiveness in this war. These were children’s toys before the war, and today they are high-precision weapons with an efficiency of more than 80% in the destruction of personnel and equipment. No artillery can match that. Because the operator directly sees his target, where he hits.

Well, drones that fly more than 500 km are also a new trend. Unfortunately, the Russians were the first to use them, but we got together quickly and already have quite effective results and are increasing our production.

M.U.: Let’s talk about the “Sea Baby” surface drones that the SBU currently uses at sea – how revolutionary is this technology?

Yu.Sh.: This type of war at sea also originated in Ukraine. Before that, no one had used naval drones precisely as a weapon.

But when our neighbors started to do what they think is necessary at sea, we found a worthy answer. Today, people from all over the world are trying to learn how to create such drones so that they are effective.

And secondly, few people understand how they can be controlled at such distances so that they hit so accurately. Therefore, this is Ukrainian know-how, the export version of which will be after our victory.

M.U.: To what extent is there a need for night vision drones?

They are not visible at night, and Russians are so afraid of them that they call them “baba yaga” – because it is not clear where it comes from.

Yu.Sh.: 90% of Ukrainian drones — both strike and reconnaissance — immediately come with a thermal camera. This is a mandatory requirement of our military, which we have been fulfilling since day one. For example, we buy “maviks” in the vast majority with a thermal camera. And almost all Ukrainian reconnaissance drones and attack copters come with a night camera.

Drones work at night. They are easier to knock down during the day. They are not visible at night and the Russians are so afraid of them that they call them “baba yaga”, because it is not clear where it comes from.

M.U.: Why did drones turn out to be such an effective weapon and why is it so difficult for the Russians to counter Ukrainian drones?

Yu.Sh.: I would like to say – because they are stupid. But, unfortunately, this is not the case. Because we were able to train pilots — we didn’t just issue drones and fight as you want.

It was also a comprehensive procurement program — we simplified absolutely everything that was legally possible. Before a full-scale invasion, the procurement of drones for service could take several years, and everyone was fine with that.

Today, this process in the Ministry of Defense takes several weeks, and if you contract within the “Army of Drones”, then it takes 1-2-3 days.

We have developed special conditions for joint testing of drones. Any division that orders drones from us can call the manufacturer, conduct tests with him, write a joint deed that this drone suits him, and we will immediately buy it.

The market evens it all out — if the drone is ineffective, the military will abandon it. But today we have not had a single refusal. Because the manufacturers understand why they are doing it — they are doing it for the liberation of Ukraine, and it will not work out to do hap-lip, because it is their responsibility.

We understand that the enemy is quite strong, and it will not work just to throw Maviks at him on the battlefield.

We understand that the enemy is strong enough, and it will not be possible to simply throw at him with “maviks” on the battlefield. We need to develop technology that will allow us to bypass the means of radio-electronic warfare, conduct effective reconnaissance, find weak points, destroy their manpower and equipment.

M.U.: Tell us about the training of drone pilots – where do they take place and how are these operators then distributed among the Armed Forces of Ukraine?

Yu.Sh.: When we started the “Army of Drones”, our main task was to provide the Armed Forces with drones. But later we realized that we don’t have enough cool pilots. Getting the drone is one thing, not losing it in the first fight is a bit more difficult. Therefore, our next step was the training of pilots.

Our goal this year is to purchase 200,000 UAVs, and we need at least 50,000 military personnel who can fly them.

Starting from the end of summer last year, we started a separate direction — training the military for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. In half a year of 2023, we managed to train 10,000 pilots.

We cooperate with 25 Ukrainian schools that train military pilots on a daily basis. 98% of the people studying there are military personnel serving in the Armed Forces, the National Guard, the Border Service, and the Security Service of Ukraine. And we will scale this project. Because our goal is to purchase 200,000 UAVs this year, and we need at least 50,000 military personnel who know how to fly them.

In February, the General Staff decided to create separate strike companies of unmanned aerial vehicles. The plan for this year is 60 such mouths. To date, 17 have already been formed, are fully staffed, and they are performing combat tasks on the front line.

In addition, we created another such unit at the State Special Communications. And this is the right way, when there is a separate structural unit that also performs reconnaissance tasks for infantry or landing units. Absolutely every brigade will have such a unit, which is entrusted with the tasks of reconnaissance and destruction of the enemy with unmanned aerial vehicles.

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