Ukraine Builds Out Drone Army with Drivable Bombs, Unjammable Aircraft

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Taras Ostapchuk explains how his land-based drone Ratel works, in Kyiv.

KYIV — Ukraine is devising new unmanned vehicles, and pumping out existing models, as it fights to retake territory from Russia. With both sides exchanging drone attacks, performance of the vehicles has become key to the war’s direction. In Ukraine, drone development has been fueled by public and private sector cooperation, as they combine their ideas and technology.

From lighting fixtures to drones

The Ratel is a land-based self-destructing drone, about 30 centimeters tall and 80 centimeters long. It can carry about 40 kilograms of anti-tank mines and mortar shells and travel at about 20 kph. It can also drive over uneven surfaces. On the battlefield, it targets enemy soldiers, tanks and trenches.

The vehicle was developed at a lighting fixture factory in Kyiv. Last year, factory owner Taras Ostapchuk, 36, was assigned to the Ukrainian military unit that handles drones. At the time, aerial drones could only carry bombs weighing about 1 kilogram, so he suggested making a land-based drone with a larger payload capacity.

A prototype was completed in March this year on machinery at the factory. In May, it was used successfully to blow up Russian trenches. So far, more than 50 of the drones have been deployed around Bakhmut and in other parts of Ukraine.

The Ratel can be easily maneuvered, by the naked eye for targets within 1.5 kilometers, and by aerial view from overhead drones for distant targets.

Currently, 100 units are produced per month. Ostapchuk is also developing larger drones to transport wounded soldiers, as well as drones to deliver equipment to the front lines. “My goal is to end the war as soon as possible and return to my original work,” he said.

Courtesy of Oleksandr Eine
A Backfire drone, which flies automated missions

On par with pricier weapons

Drone production in Ukraine is booming, with aerial drones being manufactured at a pace 120 to 140 times faster than last year.

The procurement of drones is facilitated by Brave1, an organization jointly established by the government, the military and other entities. The organization coordinates among concerned parties including companies, the government, the military and investors, and provides grants. Currently, more than 500 manufacturers are registered with the organization. An official at the organization stressed the advantages of drones, saying, “They don’t endanger soldiers’ lives and can compete with expensive weapons.”

An aerial drone called Backfire was developed jointly by people associated with the Ukrainian military and the private sector. It is used mainly on the southern front.

Since it is not controlled by radio, it is immune to the jamming that can disable other drones. Backfire’s flight is automated, and a computer determines where to drop a bomb so that it hits the target. The drones have been deployed in more than 50 missions and never been shot down. They have a range of 35 kilometers and can fly as fast as 84 kph.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Oleksandr Eine

One of the developers, Oleksandr Eine, 39, is a member of the Ukrainian military. He was running a software development company before Russia’s aggression, and used his network of engineers when developing the drone.

“We lack long-range artillery, so drones are a cheap and very effective alternative,” Eine said. “We have less ammunition and personnel, so the only way to defeat our enemy is to be more innovative and effective.”