#UKRAINERUSSIAWAR. Drones 3.0, a new phase of the war begins

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The government of Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmygal created the Committee for Industry and Defense, a temporary consultative body, where Shmygal is trying to regain control and gain a common vision for weapons production. The initiative comes in response to a number of public and private sector initiatives taken over the past year.

A defense technology cluster known as Brave1, operated by the Department of Digital Transformation, competes with the Department of Defense cluster. Like the Committee on Industry and Defense, these two clusters are designed to facilitate relationships between domestic manufacturers, government agencies and foreign manufacturers, while stimulating production and development. Meanwhile, some private sector projects aim to support the production of small arms, particularly small drones assembled by workers receiving field training in courses across Ukraine. These quasi-artisanal products escape government control and their production remains somewhat uncoordinated.

Drone manufacturing is a major area of interest for the new committee, whose first meeting on February 13 covered the work of Brave1, which has startups producing a range of reconnaissance, naval and attack drone systems. At the same time, Shmygal noted that in recent months the government has adopted legislation on the production of UAVs, in particular by eliminating some of the bureaucracy that holds back the market and innovation.

About UAH 40 billion (almost 1 billion euros) is planned for the purchase of drones in 2024. One of the first tasks of the committee will be to examine exactly how defense contracts are awarded and look for ways to improve the process. They will be examined by the National Security and Defense Council in the coming weeks.

The Industry and Defense Committee, overseen by the Ministry of Strategic Industry and chaired by the Prime Minister, aims to make the defense market more flexible, in particular by repealing or adapting its legislative framework. This will be achieved while ensuring greater market transparency, as requested by Kiev’s allies. To this end, Ukraine has started to restructure its state enterprise Ukroboronprom.

Here, too, the Ukrainian government demonstrates its ambitions: the committee will review plans for the creation of defense enterprises and production facilities, as well as plans to strengthen existing ones. BolMuch of its mandate also involves cooperation with foreign investors and manufacturers, a key part of efforts to locally produce technology compliant with NATO standards.

At the national level, revitalizing the defense industry is an urgent, if challenging, issue. A combination of urgent needs and pressure from allies means Kiev will have to balance cutting red tape with tightening controls. In the last quarter of 2023, a State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) report concluded that defense manufacturers are not expected to make a profit, considering it a “loss to the government.” This angered industrialists and forced Parliament to invalidate the results, which were considered dangerous for the defense market.

Moscow has devised a response: Orlan-30B. For months now, the Russian army has been grappling with the ubiquity of FPV drones produced on a large scale by Ukrainian startups and non-profit organizations. The ecosystem is unusual, financed by the Brave 1 defense cluster, created by Minister of Digital Transformation Mikhail Fedorov. Kiev produces 10,000 of these drones every month.

According to the French, or rather French intelligence, on February 13, Russia began deploying and testing a new version of its tactical electronic warfare UAV, the Orlan-30B, with the aim of declaring it combat-ready sooner to launch it into large-scale production. The 80th Independent Reconnaissance Battalion, nicknamed “Sparta” and made up of electronic warfare specialists, is responsible for this large-scale test campaign.

Russia is actively mobilizing industry manufacturers to optimize research and development, as well as production lines, to deliver new and improved systems. The transition of the Russian defense industry to the total war production model is complete. The planning work, as well as the use of feedback from the front, seems to be bearing fruit.

The Orlan-30B is similar to its predecessor, the Orlan-30A, which has been used since the start of the conflict in Donbass in 2014, as well as in Syria by special forces units. Its airframe is similar to that of the classic Orlan-10 observation model, but is equipped with an IMSI receiver. This receiver IMSI enables the Orlan-30B to intercept mobile network communications, as well as install an antenna network capable of picking up and jamming signals from Ukrainian drones and their pilots.

The system’s ground station, designated RB-504A-E, consists of two heavy KAMAZ trucks equipped with antennas and a digital command post. Its operators can determine the location of an enemy drone operator, jam their signal with the drone in the air and transmit their coordinates to artillery units, with which they work closely in the hunt for Kiev’s UAV operators. To transmit this critical data, Russian electronic warfare units use the ARM-K-M software interface.

Graziella Giangiulio 

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