Home » today » World » Ukraine turns to Chinese drones as U.S. startups struggle in combat: What went wrong for Skydio?

Ukraine turns to Chinese drones as U.S. startups struggle in combat: What went wrong for Skydio?

Silicon Valley company Skydio has supplied hundreds of its most advanced drones to Ukraine to help fight the Russians. But things didn’t go well.

Skydio’s drone deviated from its course, disappeared, and became a victim of Russia’s electronic warfare. After that, the company decided to start from scratch and build a new fleet.

Most of the small drones produced by U.S. startups have performed poorly in actual combat, dashing the hopes of some startups that had hoped to gain fame and fortune by earning a “battle-tested” designation. It’s also bad news for the Pentagon, which needs a reliable supply of thousands of small drones.

In the first war in which small drones have significantly participated, U.S. companies have still not gained a meaningful position. Some drone company executives, Ukrainian frontline personnel, Ukrainian government officials, and former U.S. Department of Defense officials all said that U.S.-made drones are often expensive, have many faults, and are difficult to repair.

Unable to find Western solutions, Ukraine has turned to cheaper Chinese products to fill its drone arsenal.

Advertisement – Scroll to Continue

“The general reputation among U.S. drones in Ukraine is that they don’t work as well as other systems,” Skydio CEO Adam Bry said. The company’s own drones, he said, “are not a very successful platform on the front line.” .

Some startups are trying to develop small AI-powered drones in the hope of selling them to the U.S. government, and such companies have attracted an influx of venture capital. Startups are focused on developing commercial drones that can be built faster and cheaper than the larger military drones built by traditional defense contractors. Nearly 300 U.S.-based drone technology companies have raised a total of about $2.5 billion in venture capital over the past two years, according to data firm PitchBook.

Ukrainian officials believe that U.S.-made drones are vulnerable to Russian signal jamming and GPS blocking technology. Sometimes these planes fail to take off, sometimes they fail to complete their missions, and sometimes they fail to return. U.S.-made drones often fail to fly as far as advertised and cannot carry large payloads.

Advertisement – Scroll to Continue

Mykola Bielieskov, a senior analyst at Ukrainian charity Come Back Alive, said U.S. small drones for battlefield use are “underdeveloped.” The organization has provided more than 30,000 drones to the Ukrainian military.

U.S. drone company executives said they had not anticipated Ukraine’s electronic warfare. In the case of Skydio, the company’s drones were designed in 2019 to comply with U.S. military communications standards. Executives at several startups said U.S. restrictions on drone parts and testing have limited the performance of drones and the speed of production.

Georgii Dubynskyi, Ukraine’s deputy minister for digital transformation in charge of drone projects, said these limitations have proven to be a problem in drone combat, where updates and upgrades are sometimes required on a daily basis.

Advertisement – Scroll to Continue

“It can fly today, but maybe it won’t fly tomorrow,” he said. “We have to adapt quickly to new technologies. Innovation cycles are very short in this war.”

Using Chinese drones

Ukraine has managed to purchase tens of thousands of drones and drone parts from China. The Ukrainian army is using conventional Chinese drones, mainly from DJI (SZ DJI Technology).

Ukraine has also developed a domestic drone industry relying on Chinese parts and components. Ukrainian factories are producing hundreds of thousands of small, low-cost drones that can carry explosives. In addition, Ukraine also produces larger drones that can carry out strikes deep into the enemy’s hinterland and can reach Russian ships on the Black Sea.

Advertisement – Scroll to Continue

Dubynskyi said Ukraine wants to test and use more U.S. drones. “However, we are looking for cost-effective solutions,” he said.

Ukrainian forces consume about 10,000 drones every month, and they simply cannot afford to buy expensive American drones. Many U.S. commercial drones cost tens of thousands of dollars more each than Chinese drones.

Less than a month after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the Pentagon approved the supply of Switchblade 300 drones from Virginia-based defense contractor AeroVironment. According to a U.S. veteran who used the drone in Ukraine, the Switchblade drone initially encountered problems when faced with Russian electronic warfare systems.

An AeroVironment spokesman said drones were commonly affected by Russian interference and that the company’s drones had been updated to account for the interference.

American-Greek startup Velos Rotors’ V3 twin-engine helicopter drone suffered a test failure during a demonstration outside Kiev in December, according to a spokesman. She said the V3 is being used by Ukrainian forces and the company hopes to deliver more models this year if it can secure orders from the U.S. government.

Along with AeroVironment, one of the few U.S. drone manufacturers to win a Ukrainian Defense Department contract includes Cyberlux, a North Carolina-based manufacturer of film production drones that has been modified to carry Dynamite.

Cyberlux said in a written briefing to shareholders that it had missed its drone production and delivery targets. CEO Mark Schmidt said the company had not breached a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense worth up to $79 million.

There are also successful examples. Skydio drone footage has aided Ukraine’s investigation into alleged Russian war crimes, including attacks on civilians and a nuclear facility, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office.

Sixty drones from Seattle company Brinc have been deployed to search, rescue and detect Russians inside buildings. But the drone startup isn’t sure it wants to join the war.

“Is this a huge opportunity for U.S. drone companies?” asked Brinc CEO Blake Resnick. “I am not sure.”

“We can’t miss this”

It turns out that China’s DJI is the drone brand of choice for the Ukrainian military. DJI said in a statement that the company seeks to limit the use of its drones in warfare, but cannot control how the drones are used after they are purchased.

DJI absolutely opposes and condemns the use of its products to cause harm anywhere in the world, the statement said.

The United States claims that DJI is a Chinese military industrial enterprise and a surveillance tool of the Chinese government. DJI denies this. The Pentagon has banned DJI drones from being used by the U.S. military, and legislation in the U.S. Congress would ban DJI from selling new products in the United States.

DJI said in a company statement that the proposed ban is politically motivated and the product of lobbying by U.S. drone companies seeking to eliminate competition.

U.S. drone manufacturers’ shortcomings are caused in part by the U.S. government’s policy response to China, according to drone company executives and former U.S. Defense Department officials. The U.S. Department of Defense has imposed strict requirements on drone manufacturers, including a ban on the use of Chinese components, making it more costly and difficult to build small drones, these executives and former officials said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Defense said it was critical to ensure that drones have a secure supply chain and meet military standards.

The U.S. Department of Defense launched a program in 2020 to help startups sell drones to the U.S. military, which does not allow drone manufacturers to update software without government approval. This could leave drones built under U.S. regulations vulnerable to evolving cyberattacks and electronic warfare methods.

The Defense Innovation Unit, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Silicon Valley outpost, manages the drone startup program and supports Skydio and other startups. A spokesman for the department said software changes to drones must undergo safety assessments. The department is working to improve the process so that software approvals can be completed within days, the spokesman said.

Bry said Skydio employees returned to Ukraine 17 times to get feedback. He said Skydio’s new drones were built based on Ukraine’s military needs and feedback from public safety agencies and other customers, rather than U.S. Department of Defense requirements, which are sometimes divorced from actual battlefield conditions.

Ukraine has applied for thousands of new Skydio X10 drones, whose radios can switch frequencies on their own if their signals are electronically interfered with. Skydio says the drone also has better navigation capabilities, so it can fly at high altitudes without GPS.

Bry said: “We have to make the X10 a massive success in the Ukrainian battlefield, and I think that is very significant for Skydio and the entire U.S. drone industry.” He said: “There is no other choice. As a country , we can’t fail at this.”

#U.S #drones #powerful #Ukraine #turns #Chinese #drones #fight #Russian #army
2024-04-10 06:40:00

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.