Ukraine Seeks to Boost Local Drone Production Amid Geopolitical Concerns
By Max Hunder
Ukraine’s Defense Effort
Ukraine is taking steps to enhance its defense capabilities against Russia by expanding its fleet of attack drones. In order to reduce reliance on foreign suppliers and avoid geopolitical vulnerabilities, Ukrainian producers and officials are working to increase local production of drone components.
The FPV Drone Sector
Ukraine’s rapidly growing FPV (first-person-view) drone sector heavily relies on complex supply chains to acquire electronic components, predominantly sourced from China. However, recent export controls imposed by Beijing have raised concerns about potential disruptions in the supply chain. To mitigate these risks, Ukraine aims to bolster its domestic production capabilities.
Progress in Local Production
Taras Chmut, the head of Ukraine’s largest military procurement charity, Come Back Alive, stated that domestic manufacturers are already producing FPV engines, control units, frames, and wiring. However, he emphasized the need to further develop expertise in the industry, acknowledging that complete localization may not be feasible for certain components.
The Significance of FPV Drones
FPV drones have become a cost-effective means for striking targets since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. These agile and fast drones have gained popularity on both sides of the conflict. They are capable of inflicting damage on high-value military assets such as tanks and air defense systems. However, their full potential is yet to be harnessed due to supply disruptions and funding constraints.
Transitioning to Domestic Manufacturing
Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s digital transformation minister and a strong proponent of the drone sector, highlighted the importance of gradually transitioning to domestic manufacturing. He believes that this process will take several years but is necessary to expedite production and scale up the industry.
China’s Export Controls
China’s new export controls, introduced in September 2022, have raised concerns among Ukrainian drone manufacturers. Although China has denied allegations of assisting Russia’s drone supply chain, Ukrainians fear that these controls are aimed at limiting their access to drones for use in the ongoing conflict. While Chinese parts currently dominate the market, Ukraine is actively exploring alternative sources and striving to replace components with domestic alternatives.
Challenges and Solutions
Ukrainian drone makers have faced difficulties in procuring parts due to uncertain availability from Chinese online platforms. This has resulted in delays and the need for repeated testing whenever components are changed. Some manufacturers have resorted to using intermediary companies in other countries to anonymize their purchases and circumvent potential restrictions.
Achieving Greater Capacity
Despite the challenges, Ukraine’s drone industry is poised for growth. The demand for FPV drones on the frontline continues to increase, surpassing the current production capacity. To fully leverage this opportunity, the industry requires more robust supply chains and funding support.
In conclusion, Ukraine is determined to bolster its domestic drone production capabilities to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers and mitigate geopolitical risks. By gradually transitioning to local manufacturing, Ukraine aims to enhance its defense capabilities and meet the growing demand for FPV drones on the frontline.