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CNN: Ukraine reportedly using AI to help target drones

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk April 2, 2024 3:43 PM 2 min read
An operator carries a reusable airstrike drone called Punisher made by the Ukrainian company UA Dynamics during a test in Kyiv Oblast on Aug. 11, 2023. Photo for illustrative purposes. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)
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Ukraine has begun equipping some of its attack drones with artificial intelligence (AI)-powered targeting capabilities, CNN reported on April 2, citing a source with knowledge of Ukraine's drone program.

The AI-powered drones have reportedly been used as part of Ukraine's ongoing campaign to target the Russian energy industry.

Over the last several weeks, Ukraine has carried out increasingly regular attacks on Russian oil refineries and other industrial facilities with long-range drones, including earlier on April 2. In total, the recent attacks have reportedly disrupted between 12-14% of Russia's refining capacity.

An unnamed source told CNN that some of these drones have begun using a simple version of AI that helps the drones with precision targeting and prevents jamming.

"Accuracy under jamming is enabled through the use of artificial intelligence. Each aircraft has a terminal computer with satellite and terrain data," the source said.

"The flights are determined in advance with our allies, and the aircraft follow the flight plan to enable us to strike targets with meters of precision."

An analyst told CNN that the usage of even this basic form of AI, known as machine vision, allows a drone to be programmed to map the terrain on its flight path ahead of its use in the field, meaning that the drone does not need contact with satellites.

Drones have been a vital tool in Ukraine's defense against Russia, and President Volodymyr Zelensky said in January that surpassing Russia in drone operations is one of the top priorities for 2024.

Zelensky signed a decree in February creating a separate branch of Ukraine's Armed Forces dedicated to drones. In March, Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov announced that seven Ukrainian vocational schools plan to start drone operation programs.

As drones have developed, so too has anti-drone defense, fueling a drone-arms race as both Russia and Ukraine seek to improve both their offensive and defensive capabilities.

Reuters reported in March that a U.K.-based company is focused on developing drones for the Ukrainian military that are able to withstand electronic warfare.

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