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Ukraine conflict: Ukraine developing loitering munitions, autonomous UAV technology

Ukraine is developing an analog version of Russia's Lancet ‘kamikaze' unmanned aircraft system, pictured here at the Army 2019 defence exhibition near Moscow. (Janes/Miko Vranic)

Ukraine is taking steps to counter Russian electronic warfare (EW) and improve precision by developing an alternative to the Russian Lancet loitering munition as well as artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The technologies meet a pressing priority, stipulated by Ukraine, for AI-enabled systems, the head of Brave1 Nataliia Kushnerska told Janes and other media representatives at the inaugural NATO-Ukraine Defence Innovators Forum, held between 4 and 6 June in Kraków, Poland.

The loitering munition, being developed by Ukrainian companies under the Brave1 defence technology cluster, is in the preliminary testing stage, Kushnerska said.

Along with this, the Ukrainian military is deploying AI-enabled UAVs capable of autonomously engaging pre-selected targets to reduce susceptibility to jamming. Typically, the operator selects the target between 500 and 1,000 metres from the intended objective, the range in which Russian tactical EW systems tend to operate, Oleksandr Bornyakov, the deputy minister of digital transformation of Ukraine on IT industry development, said at the forum.

This technology was tested and refined as part of a hackathon held during the forum, which involved Ukrainian developers. Janes and other media representatives witnessed a demonstration of these efforts in which a purpose-built UAV autonomously navigated towards a pre-designated target (armoured jeep).

Another technology under development, Bornyakov said, is UAVs equipped with AI-acoustic sensors. These systems have proven capable of autonomously detecting and engaging individuals and vehicles emitting specific audio signatures. The system, for example, can detect Russian T-72 and T-90 tanks. It has also eliminated a war criminal in Ukraine by honing in on their voice, he added.

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