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‘We set a precedent.’ Ukraine officially presents Unmanned Systems Forces

by Alexander Khrebet June 11, 2024 8:35 PM 4 min read
Various types of unmanned systems, which are already in service with the Ukrainian army, were demonstrated at the Unmanned Systems Forces presentation in Kyiv, Ukraine on June 11, 2024. (Kostiantyn Liberov/Libkos/Getty Images)
by Alexander Khrebet June 11, 2024 8:35 PM 4 min read
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Ukraine officially presented its Unmanned Systems Forces on June 11, four months after President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a decree ordering the creation of a separate branch of the armed forces tasked with improving drone operations.

The announcement comes a day after Defense Minister Rustem Umerov appointed Colonel Vadym Sukharevskyi, the deputy chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, as the Unmanned Systems Forces commander.

“Ukraine set a precedent that has not been seen since the creation of airplanes and air forces,” Sukharevskyi, who was responsible for drone systems and their development as deputy commander-in-chief, said at the presentation in Kyiv.

Colonel Vadym Sukharevskyi, the newly-appointed commander of Ukraine's Unmanned Systems Force, speaks during the military branch's presentation in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 11, 2024. The military demonstrated various types of remotely-operated unmanned robotic systems that their members use. (Andrew Kravchenko/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Throughout Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine and Russia have heavily invested in drone technology, revolutionizing warfare. For outnumbered Ukrainian forces, drones have been one of the key weapons to strike Russian warships, naval bases, oil refineries, and airfields inside occupied territories and deep behind enemy lines.

According to the military, the new branch of the armed forces will become the first in the world to use air, naval surface/underwater, and ground-based unmanned and robotic systems in its combat missions.

"Someone smart said that generals always prepare for the previous wars. The creation of the Unmanned Systems Forces means we have stopped preparing (for the previous wars). We have started dictating the rules,” Sukharevskyi said, referring to the famous quote by Winston Churchill, “It is a joke in Britain to say that the War Office is always preparing for the last war.”

The AI-generated swallow-like robot has been chosen as the symbol of Ukraine’s drone forces. According to the command, the swallow is “one of the most revered symbols in Ukrainian culture, associated with the news about victory.”

Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Ivan Havryliuk said at the event that the creation of the new branch would allow Ukraine to strike targets as far as in Russia’s Ural region, some 1,000 miles away from Ukraine.  

Amidst battlefield challenges, Ukraine has been employing long-range drones to strike deep into Russian territory, targeting military infrastructure such as airfields, as well as oil refineries. Strikes on oil infrastructure are aimed at disrupting fuel supplies to the Russian military and diminishing Moscow's export revenues, crucial for funding Russia's war machine.

"We have a good prospect of winning the war against Russia. We can achieve this victory thanks to your intelligence, your perseverance, and thanks to what you are doing to protect the lives and health of our servicemen by increasingly involving robots and unmanned systems in combat missions in the air, on the ground, and at sea,” Havryliuk said.

Ukraine is also working to scale up domestic production, aiming to manufacture at least 1 million drones in 2024. The nation's prowess in mass-producing these affordable yet potent weapons has spawned over 200 homegrown drone enterprises.

Strategic Industries Deputy Minister Hanna Hvozdiar said on air on March 5 that Ukraine can produce 150,000 drones every month and may be able to make 2 million drones by the end of 2024.

She also said Ukraine is already past 1 million drones produced, the goal Zelensky announced in late December 2023.

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