Espreso. Global

Ukrainian Air Force hit Russia’s underground command post. Column by Serhiy Zgurets

2 February, 2024 Friday

The Ukrainian Defense Forces have once again successfully and massively used long-range strike capabilities. Ukrainian naval “kamikaze” drones sank the Ivanovets missile boat. Ukraine’s Air Force also effectively hit the Belbek airfield in the occupied Crimea

The attack to destroy the Ivanovets missile boat of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was carried out by several drones, at least 6 of them were used. There were 40 Russian servicemen on the missile boat.

Additionally, fresh details have emerged regarding the Air Force's strike on Russian military facilities near the Belbek airfield using long-range missiles. This strike occurred two days ago, and there exists video evidence depicting powerful explosions. The attack was launched with Storm Shadow/SCALP cruise missiles. Russia has confirmed that five missiles successfully reached their intended targets. However, certain Russian media outlets reported that multiple military aircraft, including Su-27 fighter jets, were destroyed at the airfield. Nevertheless, the primary purpose of the Storm Shadow warhead is to dismantle protected underground facilities. Based on OSINT analysis, we can conclude that one of the Storm Shadow missiles struck the underground command post of the air base, located near the Belbek airport.

The Russians claimed that the strike hit a communications center, but we estimate that it was probably the radio center of the Black Sea Fleet's entire aviation headquarters. 

Production of FPV drones in Ukraine

Today, the Ukrainian company TAF Drones is focused on covering the need for basic FPV drones. In 2024, TAF Drones plans to produce about 350,000 drones.

"In January 2024, we produced 18,000 drones, in February we will produce 25,000. In March, we will increase the production of drones to 30,000. Our goal in 2024 is to produce at least 350,000 drones. This is a collaboration involving the state customer, charitable foundations, and Prozorro tenders from city councils and administrations. I am optimistic that this year, our state, together with entrepreneurs, will manufacture over 1 million drones. We remain dedicated to enhancing our solutions, such as the development of drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras and those with increased resistance to electronic warfare, which is very important now. After all, the enemy is improving its defense system, as are we, so we need to constantly change technological solutions," said Oleksandr Yakovenko, CEO of TAF Drones, entrepreneur, philanthropist, on Espreso TV.

In addition to government orders, there are many charitable organizations and private businesses that help the army, and they also order drones. 

"Our final focus is to adjust the guidance to the target by 300-400 meters so that the drone can fly on its own. Then it cannot be jammed. The level of our pilots can be lower," Yakovenko added.

TAF Drones is actively engaged in the creation of what they refer to as a "people's aircraft" – a cost-effective, "kamikaze" drone priced at up to UAH 80,000. This drone is designed to carry a payload of 4 kg over a distance of 40 km. The company aims to commence mass production in March 2024. Additionally, they are focusing on the development of short-range missiles fueled by solid fuel, covering distances of up to 70 km. Current technological advancements suggest that these solutions are likely to be incorporated in the near future.

Development of AI drones and missiles

The solution has undergone combat testing in training grounds, showcasing its efficacy. However, the current challenge lies in its high cost. The company anticipates that once the cost per drone reaches USD 250-200, it can be deployed on a large scale. Presently, it is very expensive to install such a system on each drone now.

According to Yakovenko, they are currently cooperating with teams. "Today there are a lot of young promising teams, and TAF Drones unites them. Because there is a financial opportunity to act faster in this way. There is competition between developers, everyone wants to make their product the best, but everyone understands that this is done primarily for the sake of Ukraine's victory. That's why TAF Drones buys certain solutions from other teams that it considers more technologically advanced. Drones and missiles are a multi-component solution. Therefore, the teams always share their experience.

The role of the state in production 

"The government helps develop this industry. For example, we import spare parts free of duty and VAT, which is very important. This reduces our costs and allows us to use money more efficiently. Today there is a great prospect for us in this industry. Ukraine can not only use this industry to defend its country, but also develop exports and potential," Yakovenko said.

In terms of UAV industry development, the government has done everything possible to make the business grow. There are government orders, many tenders, Prozorro, for example, has no duties, low taxes, and, what is also important, booking. Booking is a very big step towards the industry that the government has made. A critical infrastructure company can book a certain number of its employees. 

The pace of FPV drone production

TAF Drones uses a conveyor assembly line, not automated. Each person does their own job, someone solders, someone screws, someone adjusts or tests, and something can be automated. Unfortunately, it is not possible to work in a fully automated and systematic way. The company is constantly changing locations. The drones are assembled in 6 cities, which is 12 locations that move every three months. Therefore, 100% automation is almost impossible. However, the company is improving its performance through assembly line assembly and training. Currently, one person assembles 7-8 drones per day, and previously it was 5-6.

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