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WSJ: Kharkiv manufacturer diversifies business, produces long-range drones

by Olena Goncharova April 30, 2024 4:49 AM 2 min read
Ukraine's new long-range drone, nicknamed "Backfire," which debuted on Nov. 20, 2023. Photo for illustrative purposes. (Mykhailo Fedorov / Telegram)
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In a hangar tucked away in western Ukraine, several dozen workers are manufacturing long-range drones designed to meet surging demand as Ukraine ramps up a campaign of strikes deep inside Russian territory, according to the Wall Street Journal report.

Before the Russian invasion, the owner of the drone plant operated a plastic container manufacturing business in Kharkiv Oblast. Following his relocation to western Ukraine, he found employment in rail logistics. In the summer of 2023, Ukraine's security services presented him with a prototype of a long-range drone, asking if he could reproduce it.

Amidst battlefield challenges, Ukraine employs long-range drones to strike deep into Russian territory, targeting critical infrastructure such as oil refineries, airfields, and logistics, the Wall Street Journal reports. These strikes are intended to disrupt fuel supplies to the Russian military and diminish Moscow's export revenues, crucial for funding the ongoing conflict.

"In our entire lives, we’d never built anything similar to that," he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The businessman hired several veterans of the country’s aviation industry, which was a leader when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.

A workforce of 75 individuals now operates on a production line, commencing with the compression of fiberglass mesh into molds resembling wings, tail fins, and noses. Following an 11-hour solidification process in a furnace, these components are assembled to construct a small aircraft featuring a 2-meter (6.6-feet) wingspan. The engine and explosives are installed at a separate facility.

The owner keeps the drone plant location confidential for worker safety amidst potential Russian attacks.  

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.

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

Deadly drone arms race intensifies as Ukraine, Russia embrace the future of war
At this stage of a war that could last years more, both Ukraine and Russia are getting serious with their drone game: ramping up production while always looking to come up with new innovations.
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