Espreso. Global

Unmanned Systems Forces: new Ukrainian troops – technological edge to win war or belated move?

27 May, 2024 Monday

The role of drones in the Russian-Ukrainian war has become increasingly important. In 2022, the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 strike tactical UAV became part of Ukrainian folklore. Since then, much has changed – Ukrainians have started using a much wider range of drones, from powerful UAVs with a range of 1,000 km to the familiar Mavic, and even simple drones that anyone can make if they really want to. A new kind of troops, the Unmanned Systems Forces, is being established to organize the production and use of drones at the front



  1. Establishment of the Unmanned Systems Forces
  2. Why Ukraine needs a new type of troops
  3. What experts say about the Unmanned Systems Forces
  4. Who will lead the Unmanned Systems Forces
  5. What else you should know about the Unmanned Systems Forces

Establishment of the Unmanned Systems Forces

The President of Ukraine signed a decree on the establishment of a separate branch of the military-related to unmanned systems in February 2024. 


“This is something that should yield a very concrete result in the near future. This year should be decisive in many aspects. And, obviously, on the battlefield,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to Ukrainians.

By his February decision, the president instructed the government and the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to work on the establishment issue. On May 7, Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers supported a draft presidential decree developed jointly by the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff on the establishment of a separate type of troops in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the Unmanned Systems Forces.

“This is a strategic step for our country in the face of the growing threat from Russia.

The Unmanned Systems Forces are a modern and necessary solution for the effective use of our combat potential and technological superiority over the enemy at all levels - strategic, operational and tactical - with the help of unmanned systems in the air, on land and at sea,” Ukraine’s Minister of Defense commented on the government's decision.

Next, the Ministry of Defense will prepare and submit the relevant draft law of Ukraine.

Why Ukraine needs a new type of troops

First of all, the initiators of the Unmanned Systems Forces emphasize that this decision is dictated by the huge impact that these systems have on the course of combat operations. Successful operations include the attacks on the Crimean bridge, the sinking of the Ivanovets missile boat by unmanned Ukrainian boats, and a massive attack on Russian airfields that damaged nearly two dozen aircraft. 

“Drones - unmanned systems - have proven their effectiveness in battles on the ground, in the sky and at sea. Ukraine has really changed the security situation in the Black Sea thanks to drones. Repulsing assaults on the ground is largely the work of drones. The large-scale destruction of the occupiers and their equipment is also the work of drones,” the President of Ukraine said.

He also defined a clear list of tasks for the establishment of the Unmanned Systems Forces:

  • special staff positions to work with drones;
  • special units;
  • effective training;
  • systematization of experience;
  • constant scaling of production;
  • attracting the best ideas and the best specialists in this area.

Defense Minister Rustem Umerov even considers unmanned systems to be a weapon for Ukrainian victory. 

“This is a war of technology. And we must have an advantage over the enemy to win. In terms of creating the Unmanned Systems Command, we are the first. There is no such command anywhere else in the world. I hope that we will be invincible with this kind of force in the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” the minister said in an interview.

His deputies also expressed their vision of what would change with the establishment of the Unmanned Systems Forces. First Deputy Pavliuk wrote that by creating new troops, Ukraine is demonstrating that it is ready to take full advantage of unmanned vehicles.

“The new organizational capabilities will not only create special staff positions to work with drones. These will be new units, as well as a system for accumulating, evaluating, sharing experience and training in the use of drones. It is also important that opportunities are opening up for the full-scale production of drones and their deployment to the troops,” emphasized the First Deputy Minister of Defense.

Another deputy, Lieutenant General Ivan Havryliuk, believes that thanks to the Unmanned Systems Forces, Ukraine will be able to offset Russia’s numerical superiority in many types of weapons.

“The task of our engineers, manufacturers of UAVs and robotic systems is to ensure that robots gradually minimize human involvement on the battlefield. This will save the life and health of Ukrainian soldiers. I expect that the functionality of robotic systems will be rapidly expanded,” Havryliuk added.

Other ministries also supported the establishment of the Unmanned Systems Forces.

“The decision to create unmanned troops will be a powerful impetus for the technological and innovative development of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. A year ago, the Ukrainian Armed Forces established companies of attack drones at the brigade level. From day one, we have been involved in their development: developing their structural organization, doctrine of use, training, providing them with various types of drones, and digitalizing their work and interaction. During this time, drones have radically changed the situation on the battlefield,” wrote Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov.

What experts say about the establishment of the Unmanned Systems Forces

Drone operators expect the establishment of a new kind of troops to be primarily systematized. Mykyta Havrylenko, Director of Development at the Kruk UAV Operator Training Center and head of the Kurs veteran program told Ukrainian Radio about this in an interview.


“All of this needs to be brought into a separate structure so that it can be more mobile in making its own decisions regarding unmanned systems (in the air, on the ground or the water),” he said. 

Mykola Volokhov (call sign Abdullah), commander of the Terra unit of the 3rd separate assault brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, has similar thoughts.

“This is a huge positive step for me. I like it when decisions are made based on reality. That is, we have seen that it works, strong teams have already appeared, and certain patterns of effective combat have emerged. It has become more or less clear which technique is effective and how to apply it. And this is all somehow systematized, structured and brought to the official level,” Volokhov says.

He says that before, the Ukrainian Armed Forces did not even have such a position as a “drone pilot.”

“This was done by scouts, tankers, and artillerymen, but no one considered it to be something separate. Now it all exists, implemented in the Land Forces. We have, for example, a whole battalion of unmanned systems in the 3rd Assault Brigade, and before that we had a company (at one time it was one of four experimental companies in Ukraine). So we were actively working in this direction. Drones have proven to be a golden opportunity - something that turns the tide of events. And those who were the first to master them (thank God, the Ukrainian Armed Forces were the first to master them), they created very big advantages over a certain period of time,” Abdullah explains.

Ihor Lutsenko, a former MP, Ukrainian Armed Forces serviceman, and aerial reconnaissance officer, believes that high-tech solutions can only emerge from the interaction of security practitioners and civilian engineers. The Ukrainian Armed Forces lacked legal mechanisms for such interaction, while the more flexible HUR and SBU were better at it.

“Therefore, I would form robotic troops with pre-thought-out charters that should be more like the regulatory framework of the special services than a simple army,” Lutsenko wrote.

Yuriy Kasyanov, an aerial reconnaissance expert and officer with the Ukrainian Armed Forces, called the decision to establish the Unmanned Systems Forces positive but belated.

“This is a generally positive decision, which shows that the country's leadership understands the role that unmanned systems play on the battlefield today. But at the same time, this decision is also evidence of a misunderstanding by the country's top military and political leadership of the depth of the ongoing transformations. Because the massive emergence of drones on the battlefield should be compared not to the emergence of military aircraft or tanks, but to the emergence of firearms, which has radically changed warfare and military art. The decision to establish a separate kind of unmanned systems force is not only overdue but also simply outdated,” the expert believes.

Kasyanov says that unmanned systems are everywhere, and in some military units almost every soldier has a drone.

“Today, we need not so much a separate branch as a single state coordinating and guiding body, a super-agency structure that would study the experience of using drones and develop and implement state policy in the field of drones, starting with the development of drones, production of drones and ending with the use of drones,” Kasyanov emphasized.

Who will lead the Unmanned Systems Forces?

On February 9, 2024, it became known that Colonel Vadym Sukharevskyi would become Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and be responsible for unmanned systems. 


Vadym Sukharevskyi (call sign Borsuk) was born in 1984 in Berehove, Zakarpattia. At the age of 20 (2004), he participated in the peacekeeping mission in Iraq. He took part in the Battle of Al-Qut, where, according to U.S. intelligence, Ukrainians killed 180-200 militants on the first day of fighting. Ukrainian losses amounted to one killed and six wounded.

In 2009, he graduated from the Lviv Institute of Land Forces, and since 2011 he has been a senior lieutenant, commander of an airmobile company of the 80th separate airmobile regiment. 

Vadym Sukharevskyi took part in the first battle of the war in Donbas, on April 13, 2014, near Semenivka, in the Sloviansk area. Senior Lieutenant Sukharevskyi, despite the order “do not open fire,” opened fire from his APC at the militants of Igor Girkin.

As Sukharevskyi himself explained, he realized that he would be responsible for the deaths of his comrades, no matter what the orders of the command were.

“I gave the command to move forward in the APCs, and I sat in the place of the shooter so that I would bear all the responsibility for this decision. I decided to open fire myself,” he recalled.

Since 2016, as a marine battalion commander, he has been performing tasks in the Mariupol sector. In June 2020, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He was the Chief of Staff of the 35th Marine Brigade, and from February 2022 he was the commander of the 59th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade named after Yakiv Handziuk. This brigade included one of the most famous units specializing in UAVs, the Magyar Birds.

On June 18, 2022, Sukharevskyi was awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine. At the time, he held the rank of colonel.

“The goal of our team is three main theses: efficiency, consistency and analysis of the use of unmanned systems forces. This will be a powerful fist that will solve real problems on the battlefield, which will be a reliable support arm for our combat brigades. This will be the element that will allow us to respond asymmetrically to the enemy's actions and inflict maximum losses on them,” Sukharevskyi said.

He explained that the units of the Unmanned Systems Forces should meet the enemy on the battlefield with a drone, cutting off the maximum number of weapons from the Ukrainian military. Sukharevskyi added that the Russians' tactic is to cover Ukrainians with the corpses of their soldiers, but the Ukrainian Armed Forces are not going to go this way.

What else you should know about the Unmanned Systems Forces

In general, the newly established troops can claim a serious resource. Ukraine has officially announced its plan to produce 1 million FPV drones by 2024, as well as thousands of long-range drones with a range of several hundred, up to 1,000, and even more kilometers.



The Aerial Intelligence NGO emphasized that according to certain indicators, the number of tasks performed (including fire damage) by robotic technologies currently dominates traditional means. 

“Robotic technologies open up new opportunities to improve many processes on the battlefield: from reconnaissance and firepower to medical evacuation and logistics,” the organization said in a statement. 

In total, according to official data, in the 8 months before the presidential decree on the creation of the Unmanned Systems Forces (June 2023 - February 2024), the attack drones of the 67th Special Forces hit 15,140 targets. This includes strikes on Russian weapons and military equipment, as well as on manpower and strongholds. There have been cases when drone operators could hit 80 pieces of equipment overnight.

Oleksandr Musienko, head of the Center for Military Legal Studies, believes that the establishment of the Unmanned Systems Forces is in line with major global trends and that Ukraine is currently undergoing a transformation - the army's transition to future systems that will determine the battlefield situation.

“And wars will be fought with the help of robotic systems - cyborgs. We have seen it in science fiction movies, but this is something that comes to life in reality. But there is still a lot of work to be done and a long way to go before that. We need to be the first in this fight, and then the enemy will simply lag behind and have no chance. This is what we need to understand,” the analyst emphasized.

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