The Ukrainian front does not live by Bayraktars alone. Our own development of attack and reconnaissance UAVs has advanced significantly in more than a year of full-scale war, and drones have already proven their effectiveness in combat so much that military units are lining up for drones, and developers are looking for opportunities to scale quickly.
We will show you how it happens through the example of several manufacturers of Ukrainian attack drones, as well as an interview with an engineer of one of the companies.
The unmanned complex, consisting of a drone and a ground station, was developed by the UA Dynamics company. Their UAV flew for the first time back in 2016, but with the start of a full-scale invasion and the arrival of businessman Dmytro Tomchuk to the team, the project got a new lease of life.
Punisher is a strike and reconnaissance drone. The complex costs about $50,000, and a container with explosives costs only $100. The drone itself is reusable – it can pick up a new container and fly again on a mission. The developers of the drone call its quiet operation and speed among other advantages. It is allegedly capable of developing up to 198 km/h.
UA Dynamics is currently raising funds for the construction of a new training center for UAV operators, which will produce 30 crews per month – in addition to the ten already produced.
Octocopter was developed by the Ukrainian organization Aerorozvidka during the first stage of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Drones began to be developed in 2016, and in 2019 they fully tested the model that was used in the ATO zone. Currently, the drone has a flight radius of up to 8 km, can lift up to 5 kg of explosives, and stay in the air for about 40 minutes.
The drone is a purely Ukrainian development that was tested in the combat conditions of the ATO. However, Aerorozvidka did not stop at its creation. The organization implements the idea of situation centers – technological hubs that combine and coordinate technical means of intelligence and help to effectively conduct joint operations.
In situation centers, data from drones is combined with information from stationary cameras, satellite images, scouts, and other sources. After analysis and processing, the data is accessed by the military. The project is implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Digital Transformation.
The drone was developed by engineers from Kryvyi Rih. In April of this year, it was planned to be sent to Moscow during the May 9 parade. It is not known whether the Cobra was involved in the recent attacks on the capital of the aggressor country, but in any case, the development will be useful in the operations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The drone, the production of which cost only $2,000, can fly 700 km and can carry 14 kg of explosives. Cobra developer Vitalii Bryzhalov notes that the drone is collected in three hours, and it is easy to make.
In addition to the design of the drone, engineers independently developed an injection engine for it, as well as improved communication and anti-EW, looking for non-standard ways. Currently, the project is developing thanks to funds collected from caring sponsors and is constantly looking for specialists to strengthen the team.
RAM II UAV
Kamikaze drones began to be developed in 2015-2016, like many others. However, the work on it was not done by one company, but by as many as four. In 2018, several manufacturers joined forces and began supplying components that each of them did best. Currently, diversification allows you to continue producing the drone, even if difficulties arise with one of the suppliers.
According to drone co-developer Vadym Kodachihov, all the most important components of the RAM II are produced in Ukraine. Radio parts are purchased abroad, but even the boards for the drone are soldered locally. The advantage of the drone is the most modern developments against EW, which allow you to bring it to the target despite the enemy’s attempts to intercept or silence it. It also has 30x optics with gyro and digital stabilization, which allows you to capture a target from three kilometers away. If the target hides, the operator can safely abort the mission – lock the detonator and return the drone.
Currently, the drone is produced based on the Ukrainian reconnaissance drone Leleka-100. However, according to the developers, they can use the hulls of other drones for it.
This jet strike drone also is using components from different manufacturers. The main work of the Kazhan developers is to assemble the parts and improve them for combat needs. The drone can pick up various types of ammunition, reach a speed of up to 72 km/h and fly at a distance of up to 10 km. It works both in manual mode and according to the given coordinates.
Kazhan is a reusable drone that works with various means of destruction. By the end of 2022, more than 170 such drones were used in various units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The development of kamikaze drones and scouts through the eyes of the engineer who makes them
We spoke with one of the engineers of one of the Ukrainian manufacturers about how the drone development process looks in detail. For security reasons, we are withholding his name and the organization he works for.
Who are the people involved in the development of kamikaze drones? What previous experience is required for this?
Since it is a very necessary thing in the market, many people do it even without previous experience. But a good product – one that works and shows results – is mostly made by former aircraft, ship, and car modelers. For the most part, these are aircraft modelers after all.
The more skills a person has, the better they can make a product. Currently, we use 3D printing in some nodes, so such skills are also needed. I personally use FDM printing. There is also SLA – probably the coolest, but very expensive.
How does a drone go from an idea to supplying the military with a finished product?
It is best when there are requests from the military and people with a certain experience try to implement them because not all ideas can be practically developed or fit into certain financial possibilities. The development of a drone takes place in different ways. If we are talking about fixed-wing aircraft, this is one thing, if we are talking about copters, then it is completely different.
Copters are usually, though not always, made up of already-designed parts.
Some parts can be taken from one manufacturer, others from another, electronics from a third, and so on. Today, a copter is probably the easiest thing to make. It is like a building kit – you flip through several pages on AliExpress and collect everything you need.
When it comes to the development of airplanes, everything is much more complicated, because here aerodynamics is in its purest form. What you put into the development from the beginning determines whether it will fly at all. Some people make (drones) purely based on experience and they somehow fly. This is, let’s say, the average level. If people want better results, they add software that does the calculations. A bunch of graphs are drawn, aerodynamics are calculated – and that’s just to calculate the probability of a good product. And then it takes a lot of time and money to make a prototype. To put it into production, you need more money.
What is needed for a drone to be recognized as ready to work on the battlefield?
A military connection is required in any case to test the product. Now you can’t fly elsewhere – the Security Service will immediately come and say: “You come with us.” Therefore, from the beginning, it is necessary to reach out to people who grant permits for test flights within certain limits, on a certain course, at certain altitudes. Through these people or those who also come to the training ground, you can find military contacts.
Usually, the military gets the products for testing in combat conditions, initially free of charge. Then they give feedback on what needs to be done differently, what works well, and what doesn’t work at all. Or that the product is very cool, and everything works: “Take the money and give us more.” In any case, the manufacturer turns to the military and begins to cooperate with them.
The next possible step is adoption. For this, you need to pass certification. In addition to having a finished product, you need to fill out a lot of paper to fully describe it. Then submit these figures, probably, to the Ministry of Defense. There they will be examined, and certain conditions and exams will be prescribed. If everything goes well, the manufacturer will receive a certificate for their products.
With a certificate, the Ministry of Defense can sign contracts for the supply of products for arming certain units. But this is a very difficult path. Previously, it was almost impossible to get a certificate, because the conditions were written for specific manufacturers. Now everything is very simplified, although corruption, unfortunately, remains.
Where are they looking for funds for development and production?
Now there are various projects, for example, The Army of Drones where you can show yourself. When the manufacturer has already achieved something in the field, rumors about it are spreading and there is already a queue, then people come by themselves and ask: “What do you need to scale the product?”. Before that, everything happens only thanks to the manufacturer’s efforts.
You can search for sponsors or funds. However, here the result depends on the purpose for which the products are made. Because, for example, not all funds are ready to finance weapons. If observers do it, fine, but if this thing is used against the enemy, the invaders, then some say “We are humanists, we will not finance it.” Both foreign and Ukrainian funds “suffer” from this. We are cooperating with one that can provide funds only for reconnaissance drones, but not for strike ones.
Is there a moment of investment attraction in the process of finding funds? When you need to sell your idea, prove that it will be effective.
Yes, but it all depends on what the goal is. If the goal is to make money, then you need to make a financial model and calculate profits. Because any investor would like to receive a return on the funds they have invested.
And if we are talking about working for victory and free delivery of drones, then only sponsors are involved who will give their funds or purchase certain elements.
How are units chosen that will receive drones for free?
I don’t know how the distribution happens in others, I can say for us. In addition to the production of drones, we have our school. After a pilot graduates, they receive a drone for their unit.
The school has at least two specializations – reconnaissance and strike drones. Pilot training time depends on what the unit needs. Usually, everything starts with the reconnaissance drone – and when people gained some experience and provided feedback that they have something working (or even not working, but they are trying) we can put them in a queue for training on a strike drone.
The line is long today, so not everyone is ready to wait. Among those who are ready, preference is not given to infantry, but to more specialized units.
How long does pilot training take?
As far as I know, they are invited for a week. After that, all pilots get their drones and go to work. When they work on the reconnaissance drone, provide confirmation, and want to develop further, they request training again.
Then the training time is already shorter – they trained here earlier, gained combat experience, and flew in EW conditions. Therefore, depending on the workload of the instructors and the skills of the pilots, training takes 3-4 days.
Do you share experiences with other drone manufacturers?
Each manufacturer, no matter how friendly it is with the neighboring one, has its own developments. For example, there is work with artificial intelligence to make guidance on certain landmarks, even on a picture. Then the drone flies the last few tens of meters along the guidance system.
It’s all being developed but not distributed, which is why individuals are making the same mistakes. The path of developers is long and thorny. There are no certain limitations – only imagination and experience, but there is almost no help from the side either.
It is very interesting how the industry will develop, for example, in 5-10 years.
In my opinion, today Ukraine is almost the first in the world in the development of drones. There is no such testing ground anywhere else. That is why global manufacturers provide their equipment – they are interested in testing it in combat conditions, in order to show off to customers later. We hope that ours will not lag behind in this process.