12 MAR 2024

Adapt or Die Part II

Drone Development and Knowledge Exchange 

The following content was originally featured in the 7th issue of the European Resilience Newsletter, by Jack Wang & Uwe Horstmann. We appreciate their dedication to accelerating the European Defence Tech ecosystem. To access the complete newsletter and learn more about the contributors, please visit: https://resiliencetech.project-a.com/ .

This issue features guest author Matthias Lehna. Matthias is a Business Developer at Quantum Systems. He boasts a diverse background including fourteen years in the German armed forces and roles in NATO operations, UN peacekeeping, and military innovation at the Cyber Innovation Hub der Bundeswehr. His extensive experience in defense and security, including serving the chairwoman of the defence committee at the Bundestag, enriches his current position, where he closely follows developments in drone warfare.

Drone Development and Knowledge Exchange

This report combines an on-the-ground perspective with an analytical approach to drone warfare in Ukraine and is based on the insights the author made during a business research trip made in December 2023. The first part of this two-part series explored insights from a visit of the Drone Training Center of the Armed Forces with an overview of used types of drones at the frontline. This is part two and about the leverages of knowledge transfer to enhance the impact in the field of resilience technology and a possible future of Drone Warfare in Ukraine.

In Kyiv, one can meet him in an unassuming house amidst skyscrapers – one of Ukraine’s most experienced drone expert. As you walk through the corridor past many members of the Ukrainian armed forces, you reach a small office at the very end, where Hlieb shares his workspace with another drone operator. Hlieb is an inconspicuous, slender man, who, with his hoodie and a workspace covered in meme stickers, looks more like a gamer than the head of the drone trainers’ department at the Come Back Alive Foundation.

The Foundation is one of the largest and most well-known NGO in Ukraine, having collected resources for the fight in Eastern Ukraine through crowdfunding since 2014. Speaking with Hlieb, his extensive knowledge of the various drone models used in Ukraine becomes apparent. He frequently discusses technical specifications – range, flight duration, reconnaissance depth are important indicators for the operational value of a drone for him. “The drones in use must display the right specifications for their respective purposes,” he says. Following this, he reveals numerous figures and technical details to the point of being overwhelming. Hlieb willingly shares his knowledge about the operational use of drones. He knows that if everyone is informed about the current developments at the front, then Ukrainians can make the next leap in drone technology.

Hlieb embodies the Ukrainian strategy of generating innovations directly from the battlefield. The traditional top-down model of military innovation, where changes are driven by higher command based on theoretical strategies, is giving way to a more dynamic bottom-up approach in Ukraine. This shift is driven by the urgency of the battlefield, where quick adaptation and the application of real-time insights can mean the difference between success and failure. The knowledge gained from frontline experiences is rapidly integrated into the development and deployment of drones, leading to more effective and situationally appropriate use of this technology.

Wartime allows for testing innovations against a real adversary but comes with its own obstacles. Militaries must balance the incentive to innovate against the daily need to defeat an enemy who is trying to kill their members and destroy their organizations

In the rapidly evolving field of military technology, the importance of knowledge transfer in enhancing resilience cannot be overstated. This is particularly evident in the context of drone warfare in Ukraine, a topic that has gained significant attention starting as a tactical phenomen on the battlefield and has grown to a strategic element on the highest command level. The conflict in Ukraine serves as a critical case study, demonstrating how the exchange of knowledge and experience can drive technological innovation and adaptation, especially in the realm of drones.

The conflict in Ukraine has also demonstrated a never seen level of technological transparency, with both sides employing drones, electronical warfare devices, and aerial intelligence data. This has led to an environment where the ability to quickly interpret and act upon diverse streams of sensor data is as important as the technological capabilities of the drones themselves. Looking ahead, the future of drone warfare in Ukraine seems poised for significant developments. The potential for networked drone operations, advancements in electronic warfare, and the development of low cost long-range missiles are all on the horizon.

Such kind of evolution in warfare, however, will require a continued emphasis on knowledge exchange and strategic flexibility. The ability to refine tactics in response to evolving battlefield conditions, leveraging international support, and maintaining a culture of innovation and adaptability will be crucial. Participating in this development is crucial for western companies. “If you are not in Ukraine, you don’t exist here,” says Olexandr Berezhny. He is the COO of Quantum Systems Ukraine. Experts like Berezhny show that being present in Ukraine is crucial for a western company to not only enhance drone capabilities but also to invent new operational applications for them by facing the reality of the frontline.

The case of Ukraine underscores the critical role of skilled individuals who possess not only technological expertise but also the strategic and tactical wisdom to apply this knowledge effectively. This paradigm shift, emphasizing the intellectual resources and knowledge exchange alongside technological advancements, is fundamental for Ukraine to win this war. At the core of this evolution in drone warfare is the recognition that technological advancement alone is not sufficient. The real leverage lies in the effective exchange of knowledge and experiences among those who are directly involved in drone operations.

In conclusion, the experience of drone warfare in Ukraine provides valuable insights into the leverages of knowledge transfer in enhancing the impact of resilience technology. It highlights the necessity of adapting to rapidly changing conditions through continuous learning and innovation. As military technology continues to advance, the ability to effectively exchange and apply knowledge will remain a key determinant in the efficacy of resilience technology, shaping the future of drone warfare and beyond.


A battle proven UAV