"Let the iron die, not our people." How Ukrainian Air Intelligence Defeats Occupiers in Drone War

Photo: shotam.info
Kostiantyn Golubtsov

Kostiantyn Golubtsov

Published: June 22 2022 at 09:22 pm
Source: Boychenko Anastasia

Participants in the Aerointelligence NGO say many of them have "two hats." They are both defenders of Ukraine and representatives of a public association engaged in IT development for the security and defense sector. The most famous of their projects are the Delta situational awareness system and the R-18 UAV, the effectiveness of which has been proven by the military since the first days of the full-scale war. Moreover, the success of Aerointelligence is talked about outside Ukraine, having learned about its activities from publications in The Times, The Guardian and other world media.

The co-founder of the public organization, Lieutenant Colonel Yaroslav Honchar, told ShoTam about the technological advantages of the Ukrainian army over the Russian one, the balance of power in the modern drone war and the dream of robotic military operations.

The training was scheduled for February 24

The non-governmental organization "Aerointelligence" unites the citizens of Ukraine, who aim to win the war. It is mainly the IT community related to robotics, as well as the military serving in the Armed Forces, the Security Service, the National Guard or other components of the security sector. We work on the developments and pass them on to users of the Armed Forces, border guards and others.

On the eve of the full-scale invasion, the information background was very heated - we at Aerointelligence understood that something would happen. So we decided that we should at least be prepared for the fact that we would have to pack everything we needed and move somewhere. We agreed to train for ourselves and see how quickly we can get together. It so happened that this meeting was scheduled for February 24. At the time of the invasion, I was a civilian and had relations only with NGOs. Now I am a mobilized serviceman.

The epicenter of the events was at home

On February 24, we gathered at our base, as planned. During the meeting, we decided for ourselves what we would consider a trigger to start acting - then it was not clear how the situation would develop. We decided that if there is a crossing of the state border or a breakthrough of the demarcation line in ORDLO, we will go to where the epicenter of events will be. It so happened that on the same day the Russians landed at our house in Gostomel. I did not have to go far.

We prepared the equipment and moved to the area of ​​Gostomel airport. Through horizontal communications, they began to communicate with those involved in the events, and on the first night we used our R-18 drone to defeat the paratroopers at the airport.

Our drone is the most accurate means of inflicting damage

We created the R-18 drone back in 2016 - this is the first development of "Air Intelligence". R-18 is a multi-rotor drone. It has a vertical takeoff and landing, eight engines and a number of functions. In particular, it can be used as a means of surveillance and search, for the delivery of goods or for inflicting damage. The latter feature is the most relevant today, because many other drones with cameras can retrieve information. As civil society in Ukraine has become very involved in helping defenders, it has provided the army with a huge number of DJI and Autel domestic drones. But drones at war are consumables and the need for them remains constant.

Currently, R-18 is mainly used for inflicting fire damage. The main advantage of our drone is accuracy. I can state that in the tactical zone, up to 10 km, this is the most accurate means of inflicting damage. It often happens that it is impossible to do it by other means. For example, when the enemy is hiding behind civilian infrastructure. Or his tank is located behind a house - and how to hit him? And our drone makes it possible to do everything accurately, purposefully, without damaging the civilian infrastructure and without endangering the objects of cultural and historical heritage.

"Delta" was transferred to the "cloud"

We also started developing the Delta situational awareness system seven or eight years ago. Then, on the basis of our volunteer association, a military unit was formed, which accepted this development. Currently, Delta is conducted from the standpoint of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. NGO "Aerointelligence" helps to scale the system, creating a network of regional situation centers.

"Delta" is a COP-system (common operational picture), software that allows you to describe, draw, display any phenomenon that can be encountered on the battlefield. It is made in accordance with NATO standards, which were transferred in the framework of the military unit's interaction with the NATO Trust Fund for Knowledge Sharing. The system is made according to the latest technological stacks that currently exist in the world. Its feature is that it is a cloud solution, ie for the user there is only one server that needs to be serviced from an engineering point of view and all responsibility for this is transferred to the cloud.

Yaroslav Honchar, lieutenant colonel, co-founder of Air Intelligence.

If you compare "Delta" with the system of automated control of the army "Bell", created by a third-party company commissioned by the Ministry of Defense, the latter offers to have a server at the level of each unit. And someone has to administer this server. The biggest problem arises when the question of information exchange between control points arises. Imagine having to connect hundreds of servers. All this leads to the fact that it becomes very difficult to deduce situational awareness. There will be either duplication of information or no specific data. It's a different matter with a cloud solution, where all users are in a single information field. In addition, it is a matter of cyber security: it is much easier to administer one security loop than a hundred.

It is important to impose your fighting rhythm on the enemy

The active implementation of the Delta system began with the Kyiv Operation. Events unfolded very rapidly: now the enemy is here, and five minutes later he is in another place. There is a need for information in all divisions, so this became the starting point for the rapid growth of Delta. Users began to join the system, enter and take information from there, establish connections with each other. In the end, such collaboration had a cumulative effect, when the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, border guards and volunteers were able to act in one information field. If you are the first to have the data, you impose your fighting rhythm, and do not react to it under enemy pressure.

We have created an interdepartmental situation center. It started with the fact that the developers themselves mapped the information using data from open sources. In three or four days, the military and terrorist defense joined in, and information began to arrive from the occupied territories, which was immediately displayed on the map. Thanks to this awareness, it was possible to act more actively than the enemies expected, and to conduct operations that brought down the fighting rhythm of the enemy. Ukrainian defenders took the initiative.

We can surpass Russia not in quantity, but in dexterity

The unit that is a legacy of Air Intelligence and pursues our values ​​in the Ministry of Defense is presented as the Center for Innovation and Development of Defense Technologies. He is further developing the Delta system in cooperation with our allies, primarily the United States and Canada, for example, in the field of cyber defense.

As everyone knows, the whole civilized world helps Ukraine and provides us with weapons. Modern weapons are digital: they are able to receive targets, to make certain calculations on their own. The Innovation Center, in particular, is involved in the integration of these new weapons into the situational awareness system so that they are not just guns, but guns that can be communicated with. Conventionally speaking, so that the responsible official from the fire destruction planning group could see where his guns were, send targets and thus be more agile than the enemy.

In terms of quantitative potential, of course, Ukraine is inferior to Russia. We will never be able to field the same army as the enemy can afford. 140 million of them, us - 40 million. Tactics of the Second World War "wall to wall" - certainly not our option. Therefore, we must be more agile, more knowledgeable, act ahead, use unpredictable tactics for the enemy. All this is possible only when all your combat units are intelligent, interact with each other, act meaningfully and impose their agenda.

Starlink and national mobile operators are helping out

Before the start of the full-scale invasion, we feared that communication in the country might disappear. Probably, somewhere in the sky we are heard - SpaceX gave Ukraine Starlink, for which they bow low. This technology is helping us today. I would also like to note the strong contribution of national mobile operators, who have been actively involved since the first days of the full-scale invasion. The war prompted them to do online roaming. We are still cooperating with each other. In the Delta system, mobile operators have marked all their base stations and their status. We also help them with repairs and cover.

Read also: Software for the gods of war and "killer" of Russian positions "Valkyrie". How the SOS Army is approaching our victory

I remember the situation near Kyiv: there was a base station that was disconnected from the power supply as a result of hostilities, but it had a generator. One of the operators said that if they poured fuel there, they could cover a large area with communications. And we took on this job and brought a barrel of diesel fuel to where civilians, of course, will not come. This is another example of such collaboration, where society and business come together to fight back.

Ukraine's advantage is in IT

If the two armies stand facing each other for a long time, they will adopt tactics and technology from each other. This war has been going on for the ninth year. We have been pushing in Donbass for eight years, the line of demarcation has hardly changed. What did the Ukrainian defenders do? Artillery duels, the elimination of the leaders of terrorist groups, confrontations between drones and electronic warfare. Our UAVs are flying - they are hindering us. We are improving - the enemy is also improving. We come up with what technology we can still perform missions - half a year passes, and the enemy is opposed. The same from the Russians. I remember how in 2016 we could land Orlan ( Russian multi-purpose unmanned aerial vehicle).with the help of our electronic warfare tool. In 2017, this was not enough. And this is a technological confrontation that continues.

Our advantage is advanced information technologies. What we get from the enemy as trophies - ground control stations, tablets - is done clumsily. Russia has spent a lot of money on these developments, and their corruption is our salvation. However, the enemy should not be underestimated: they also have means of electronic warfare.

What we need in a drone war

This war is also called the drone war, and here Ukraine dominates the tactical chain. This is primarily the merit of civil society. The Return Alive Foundation, the Serhiy Prytula Charitable Foundation, as well as a huge number of small volunteer associations simply overwhelmed us with domestic drones, which do a great job. However, this is only about the line of contact, the red zone to a depth of 10 km. But at the level of operational and tactical level, we still do not have enough funds, the Russians have more of them.

In particular, the "Eagles", able to stay in the air depending on the modifications from eight hours. This leads to the fact that we lose certain capabilities. With small drones to the line of contact we see perfectly, and at greater depths we have limited opportunities to search for information and long-term observation of the moving object.

We are extremely short of drones that could do this, because the next class is Bayraktar. Great technique that can observe and has a shock function. However, its use has now become limited, because we are once again moving into a positional struggle. The front line was delineated, and the Russians deployed combat formations with air defense equipment. And we can no longer risk "Bayraktars", flying to great depths and watching the object for a long time.

Achievements that remain outside the frame

For me, all Air Intelligence projects are equally important. Of course, people enjoy watching the video when our army hits the enemy's equipment, smashes it. However, much of the work remains off-screen, but its value cannot be overestimated. For example, the deployment of an interagency situation center in Kyiv, when all of us, the Armed Forces, border guards, the National Guard, and volunteers, began collecting, processing, and disseminating information through the Delta system. Such situation centers are already operating in the East and South.

Since everyone now has situational awareness, we have drastically reduced the phenomenon of friendly fire when the unit does not know who is around. But we must admit that this was the case: for example, when a fighter has no idea that our helicopter is flying, and uses a "Stinger" against him. All this is a consequence of the fact that people were not aware of the situation. So, in my opinion, the most important phenomenon that helps us in the armed confrontation is the spread of integrated software.

Our robotic division is engaged in developments that help turn civilian drones into those that can cause fire damage. It also affects the course of hostilities. The military is less risky, and its effectiveness in inflicting fire on the enemy is increased compared to what it could be simply with a machine gun or grenade launcher. For example, the range of this lesion was calculated at 0.5 km. And now he has a drone equipped with a system for dropping regular ammunition, so this fighter can operate within a radius of 5 km. In addition, he is still informed about the situation, will not shoot at his own, will only defeat the enemy. This is something that Putin was clearly not preparing for.

Moving to NATO standards is a matter for all Ukrainians

Prior to the new stage of the war, Aerointelligence set the goal of conducting the first robotic military operation. And we already have some experience in this direction. In particular, we are one step away from using drones in packs, so that one operator controls not one drone, but several at once. It is a fact that these flocks are endowed with artificial intelligence, because a person loses to a computer. To combine air and ground drones. These are all things we have dreamed of and continue to pursue. We are convinced that if a person can be removed as far as possible from the battlefield, it must be done. Let the robot take the risk, let the iron die, not our people.

We will win - we have already won, I am deeply convinced of that. We must not give up. The whole society should be united, and everyone should behave sincerely and devotedly, be honest with themselves, be aware of experience, not be indifferent and not turn a blind eye to shameful phenomena, which should not be in the new Ukraine we all dream of. If you see that someone threw a cigarette butt past the ballot box, do not be silent. Similarly, you should not be silent when you see that the army is being looted in front of your eyes.

We need to understand that the things that are written in the documents of the strategic level are not empty words. We need to move more actively towards a mental change to NATO standards, to understand these issues, and not to wave back and say that there is a Armed Forces, let them deal with it. Everyone understood that now it is a matter of the whole Ukrainian people. It is necessary to change the mentality of the security and defense sector and society as a whole. So that after the victory, Ukraine joins the club of collective security and we are calm that our children and grandchildren will not have to rake up relations with the northern neighbor again.

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