| 17 April 2024, Wednesday |

Inside Ukraine’s tech push to counter Russian ‘suicide’ drone threat

Hundreds of engineers and inventors assembled in a basement in central Kyiv late last month, hidden from prying eyes, to debate methods to better neutralize the cheap Russian suicide drones that continue to damage Ukrainian cities.

It was a rare, up-close look at Ukraine’s technological weapons race with Russia, which relies on private sector innovation backed with state venture money and is producing thousands of military drones in a thriving wartime economy.

“The war today is technological, with changes in technology and on the battlefield happening every day,” Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister and minister for digital transformations, said on the sidelines of the gathering.

Reuters was the only media outfit invited to the event, where high-ranking army officials and ministers mingled with engineers and eccentric enthusiasts. One man arrived in shorts and a baseball cap with a large drone under his arm.

Organisers distributed $3 million in prize money among three teams of experts deemed to have presented the best drones or electronic warfare technology against Russia’s “Shahed”, drones of Iranian origin which cruise in swarms to their targets and detonate on impact.

In May, Russia attacked Ukraine with a record monthly total of more than 300 drones, official data shows, a challenge for planners anxious to protect energy supplies this winter. Last winter Russia tried to cripple the power grid with air strikes.

“We want to prepare for the… next winter to respond to these challenges,” Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said.

The Iranian drones fly so low that they can avoid detection by air defences, while their navigation systems are robust enough to make it hard to take them down with anti-drone electronic warfare weapons that disrupt radio frequencies.

The West has supplied sophisticated air defence systems to counter missile attacks, but taking down swarms of drones that cost $50,000 a piece with $1 million missiles is not ideal, officials say.

“That’s not profitable, so we need to constantly cut the cost of the tools we use to destroy Shaheds,” said Fedorov.

“We’re talking about detection (of drones) using acoustic as well as other means, and also about actual destruction.”

The event’s organisers asked Reuters not to disclose the surnames of participants for security reasons.

  • Reuters