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US worried its drones failed to turn tide in Ukraine – WSJ

Wednesday, 10 April 2024, 06:57
US worried its drones failed to turn tide in Ukraine – WSJ
A drone at the Skydio factory. Photo: WSJ

Silicon Valley company Skydio has sent hundreds of its most capable UAVs to Ukraine to help fight the Russians, but the technology has not performed well.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Details: Skydio's drones kept going off course and being lost due to Russian electronic warfare systems. The company has gone back to developing and building a new fleet.


The article noted that most American start-ups' small UAVs have failed to prove themselves in combat, dispelling the companies' hopes that a badge of combat testing would generate sales and attention. It's also bad news for the Pentagon, which needs a reliable supply of thousands of small uncrewed aerial vehicles.

The WSJ noted that US companies still lack a significant presence in the first war where small drones are playing a critical role. US-made UAVs tend to be expensive, faulty and complicated to repair, say drone company executives, the Ukrainians on the front line, Ukrainian government officials and former US military officials.

Lacking solutions in the West, Ukraine has turned to cheaper Chinese products to supplement its drone arsenal.

Quote from Skydio Chief Executive Adam Bry: "The general reputation for every class of U.S. drone in Ukraine is that they don’t work as well as other systems."

More details: The CEO labelled his own UAV as "not a very successful platform on the front lines".

PitchBook, a resource for comprehensive data, research and insights spanning across the global capital markets, estimates that nearly 300 US drone technology companies have raised a total of US$2.5 billion in venture capital funding over the past two years.

The Wall Street Journal, citing Ukrainian government officials, noted that US-made drones are fragile and unable to overcome Russian jamming and GPS jamming technologies. Sometimes, they failed to take off, complete a mission, or come back. US-made UAVs are often unable to fly the declared distances or carry significant payloads.

Executives at US drone companies say they did not expect electronic warfare to unfold in Ukraine. In the case of Skydio, their UAV was developed in 2019 to meet the communication standards set by the US military.

However, Ukraine has found ways to obtain tens of thousands of UAVs, as well as spare parts for them, from China. The military is using off-the-shelf Chinese drones, mostly made by SZ DJI Technology.

The WSJ reported that Ukraine has also developed a domestic drone industry that relies on Chinese components. Ukrainian factories produce hundreds of thousands of small, cheap UAVs that can carry explosives. In addition, it makes larger drones that can strike deep into Russian territory and reach Russian warships in the Black Sea.

The Ukrainian military spends about 10,000 UAVs a month, which it would not be able to afford if it had to purchase expensive US-made drones. Many US commercial UAVs cost tens of thousands of dollars more than Chinese models.

The Chinese company DJI has established itself as the drone brand of choice for the Ukrainian military. In a statement, DJI said that the company is trying to limit the employment of its UAVs in the war but cannot control the use of drones after they are purchased: "DJI absolutely deplores and condemns the use of its products to cause harm anywhere in the world."

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