UK, Latvia to supply thousands of drones to Ukraine

The Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System (Image credit: Teledyne FLIR)
The Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System (Image credit: Teledyne FLIR)

The U.K.’s Ministry of Defence will supply thousands of drones to Ukraine, as co-leader of a capability coalition, according to a statement made by Defence Secretary Grant Shapps last week. The initiative falls under the £200 million drone package for Ukraine, announced by the British Prime Minister in January.

It was not disclosed what type of drones would be delivered to Ukraine, but the supply will include first-person view (FPV) drones. During the conflict, Ukraine has used both military and commercial drones extensively. Russia and Ukraine have found that attaching ordinance to commercial drones has provided a less expensive option, allowing forces to deploy drones in greater numbers.

The Ministry of Defence is to create a ‘competition’ in order to make it affordable to mass-produce drones for Ukraine. As a result, the UK will soon order thousands of drones from UK manufacturers and other partners in the drone capability coalition.

Drone warfare has been a key component of both Urkainian and Russian battlefield tactics over the last two years. Ukrainian soldiers in the field have had to become pilots, with the military running training programmes to upskill thousands of soldiers in drone operation. As a result, nano, micro and other smaller drones have proven to be highly effective on the battlefield, providing both ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance) capabilities at ground level, and lethal capabilities to target enemy assets.

The UK has been using nano-drones for more than 10 years, first deploying the Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System made by FLIR Systems (Teledyne FLIR) in 2013. The drone was used primarily for reconnaissance urban combat in Afghanistan, allowing soldiers to see inside buildings and around corners safely. However, the 200 gram drones were expensive and the 160 units first purchased for Afghanistan operations came with a £20 million supply and maintenance contract.

The price point for Black Hornets has since gone down and hundreds of the nano drones have been delivered under the U.S. military funding programme for Ukraine. However, many thousands of drones are needed to be able to match Russian forces in the battlefield and this requires less expensive drones that can be made available in higher quantities, in addition to the more sophisticated and specialised drone solutions. Ukrainian forces have been making up the shortfall in military-spec drones, by buying and converting cheaper commercial drones for military use.

The new UK and Lativia-led drone coalition aims to find ways of supplying a higher volume of drones at a lower cost, whilst still providing the required results in action. How it manages to achieve this will also provide a valuable lesson for NATO.

by Carrington malin