After the outbreak of hostilities in eastern Ukraine, the need for the rearmament of our army has become extremely important. Innovations able to save lives of military officers and help them in fighting with advantages over the enemy have become a necessity. The military-industrial complex of Ukraine has embarked on closer cooperation with startups, which means that startups started testing their developments in field conditions and got a chance for a state order.
Innovation House has figured out who was accompanying the most famous Ukrainian defense startups on their way from idea to production prototype, and why we are still suffering the shortage of military innovations.
What are the Ukrainian defense innovations?
Not much is known about Ukrainian disruptive innovations in the defense field. However, the State Concern UkrOboronProm was proud to introduce some developments at international exhibitions and to hold a public demonstration of their technical capabilities.
The combat module Taipan that provides automatic targeting and keeps armament in the defined position was one of such developments. In other words, this combat module is providing automatic tracking of a target regardless repositioning of the combat vehicle’s hull in motion.
Worldwide renowned development, demonstrated my SC UkrOboronProm – tactical unmanned multipurpose vehicle Phantom able to fire for a distance of over 1 km. It is remotely operated by means of secure radio channel or via fiber cable. Its operational range is up to 20 km.
Ukraine’s new unmanned aerial vehicle Anser was repeatedly presented at international exhibitions. It may be used for the monitoring of large areas or enemy positions using the optics with 32x zoom. One charge makes it stay in the air from 6 to 12 hours. Aircraft weight is 23 kg, its payload is 5 kg. Information from the UAV is transmitted through fully encrypted digital data channels. UAV needs no fixed runways or flight landing strip since it is catapult launched and uses the parachute for landing
The Unmanned Aircraft Complexes Sparrow was yet another “birdie” presented to the wider public by Ukrainian military officers. It is designed for tactical close and medium-range reconnaissance, while remaining undetected both visually and by the radar. Sparrow not only transmits the full picture of the study area, but determines the type of enemy vehicle and its coordinates as well.
The authors of these developments are different people, however all the developments were created in partnership with the Innovations Development Platform Agency. Phantom and Taipan were developed jointly with SFTE SpecTechnoExport that is the part of SC UkrOboronProm. UAVs Anser and Sparrow were created jointly with PE Spaytek.
The Innovations Development Platform, established in 2016 at the initiative of SpecTechnoExport and supported by UkrOboronProm, has accompanied these projects from the stage of idea to the production prototype stage. This Agency is headed by Dmytro Shestakov and Dmytro Ruzhytskyi, who made friends while working on joint projects at UkrOboronProm. In the course of their activity they strived for the establishment of systematized working principles with institutional and private investors with their involvement in the defense field. “We have realized that the establishment of some agency, platform like we have, is of fundamental importance for the development of country’s defense complex and innovation projects as a whole. Therefore, we decided to establish full-fledged incubator with the acceleration of the best developments teams,” – Dmytro Ruzhytskyi, CEO at the Innovations Development Platform, said.
The Innovations Development Platform is currently developing several projects on its own. LimpidArmor helmet-mounted circular review system for armoured vehicles is one of such developments. It was created based on Hololens and Meta augmented reality glasses and may procure the 360 degree view resulting in the improved maneuvering of armoured vehicles.
Plans for the future
“We are focused on projects, implementation of which has the greatest potential locally and globally. We are not tailored to Ukrainian defense order and budget,” – Dmytro Shestakov, Managing Partner at the Innovations Development Platform, said. For instance, the company is now dealing with the development of direction related to agriculture-based industry, while implementing such dual-purpose technologies as unmanned aerial vehicles and IoT into the agricultural industry.
One of the basic tasks set by the management of the Platform is to create highly competitive products as to their technical and pricing characteristics that may be introduced to the world market. According to Dmytro Shestakov, the purchase interest showed by international partners is aimed at Platform’s projects, able to stimulate Ukrainian customers to purchase “our developments”.
The company is currently working on execution of world’s largest contract with the Government of India as to the sale of Ukrainian UAVs
Some of the developments of the Innovations Development Platform are already sold. Exactly what kind of developments and to whom – is the commercial confidentiality. What is known is that a number of UAVs was sold in response to orders from African countries. Some of them are being sold in Ukraine. The company is currently working on execution of world’s largest contract with the Government of India as to the sale of Ukrainian UAVs.
Why defense field is suffering the shortage of innovative developments
Ukraine has no established ecosystem, communication between the developers, factories, and exporters. Executives of the Platform believe that this is the main cause of the shortage of innovative developments in our defense field. First, there is no structured communication between the customers that would allow them to share their professional experience and to create joint and more efficient working teams. Secondly, they almost have no communication with military officers too. The “almost” category usually consists of those officers who have no special technical education and rely on existing experience. “A person who has twice gone to Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone and brought food commodities or humanitarian aid there – this is very useful for our guys and deserves to be respected, but… Can this person act as an expert and give some comments to the developer? That might be so… That’s not bad, but this sort of incompetent feedbacks or thoughts make the developers loose fragment of energy, resource, and strength. And then, all of that potential just going to waste,” – Dmytro Shestakov explained.
So basically, among other things, the Innovations Development Platform wants to fill this expert gap.
After all, Ukraine has always had immense engineering school. 80% of all the R&D in the Soviet Union were conducted in Ukraine. However, Dmytro Shestakov believes that currently we have less than 50,000 out of 350,000 of engineers that were engaged in R&D in 1991. “Though, as you understand, these developers are 45 years of age and even older. No one wanted to be an engineer for twenty years since the early 90’s. This activity type was not considered to be advanced and did not generate any profit. Half of developers entered the markets, some of them passed away, and some just left the country,” – Mr. Shestakov added.
According to his observations, after 2014 all those, who were at marketplaces, started doing something, creating engineering startups. It is clear that there is a substantial experience under the belt of these engineers. Some ideas generated by them are very interesting, since they did a lot of work on technical thought implementation.
When innovations enter the battlefield
There is a huge difference between what is shown as a demonstration model and what may really be used in a battlefield situation. This was said to Innovation House by the source from the Military Scientific Directorate of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces of Ukraine. Two years are supposed to have elapsed between the development demonstration at the exhibition and its entrance into service by the army. “As an example, drones that were introduced in 2014, were entered into service in 2016,” – expert said. As of today, prototypes of future systems are being shown. Some of them are allowed for the operation, some of them not. According to the source, neither Phantom, nor Taipan, nor Sparrow are not yet being used in a battlefield situation.
Each project considered by the Innovations Development Platform is going through the stage of technical and economic expertise. The technical expertise is covered by the employees of research and development establishments, laboratories, and employees of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Moreover, private experts having necessary and undisputable qualifications are also engaged for the accomplishment of specific tasks.
For two years now, the Platform is dealing with the improvement of project evaluation model. As of today, more than 150 projects were processed. Four projects were put into serial production, six more projects are at the stage of active development. Eight projects are at the stage of technical expertise completion. Another 24 projects are at the readiness phase for the technical expertise conduction. 30 projects failed to pass qualification-based selection, their authors were given some recommendations as to finalization of their developments.
According to Dmytro Shestakov, Ukraine has large capacities for the commercialization of hardware innovations. “Microcircuits may be soldered even in Ukraine. The State Concern UkrOboronProm is consisting of over 120 enterprises. 400-some private enterprise are closely coordinated with the Concern as well. Sure thing, these may be small and medium-sized enterprises, but we have more than 500 of them in Ukraine. This is no small number,” – Dmytro Shestakov said. One of his strategic goals is to create some engineering hub that will be open for any person, who has interesting idea but has no courage to implement it.