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Ukraine launches new branch of armed forces dedicated exclusively to drones

Volodymyr Zelensky has ordered officials to create a separate branch of the army dedicated to drones as they have been instrumental in Ukraine’s fight against Russian forces.

“I have just signed a decree initiating the establishment of a separate branch of our defence forces – the unmanned systems forces. This is not a matter of the future, but something that should yield a very concrete result shortly,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly address.

The Ukrainian war-time leader championed the country’s effective drone attacks on Russian forces and infrastructure, days after Kyiv said it used sea drones to sink a Russian warship in the Black Sea.

“Drones – unmanned systems – have proven their effectiveness in battles on land, in the sky and at sea. Ukraine has truly changed the security situation in the Black Sea with the help of drones,” Mr Zelensky said, adding that repelling ground assaults has primarily become the task of drones.

Russia has upped its aerial assault on Ukrainian cities in recent weeks, using missiles and drones, with the war increasingly being fought in the skies as neither Kyiv nor Moscow make significant progress on the frontline. On Wednesday, Russia fired cruise and ballistic missiles as well as Shahed-type drones at six regions across Ukraine, killing at least five civilians and injuring almost 50 others, including a pregnant woman.

“Another massive attack against our state. Six regions were struck by the enemy. All our services are now working to cope with the consequences of this terror,” Mr Zelenskiy said in the wake of the strikes.

The attacks on Wednesday targeted at least three major cities, including the capital Kyiv where the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, was discussing military aid and financial support for Ukraine. He said he started his day in an air raid shelter, calling it part of Ukraine’s “daily reality” after almost two years of war.

On the issue of drones, Ukrainian forces are expected to create special staff positions for drone operations, special units, and build effective training. There will also be a scaling-up of production for drone operations, and inclusion of the best ideas and top specialists in the unmanned aerial vehicles domain, officials have said.

Successful Ukrainian attacks on Russian aircraft and ships in the Black Sea have helped push Moscow’s naval forces back and allowed Kyiv to increase crucial exports of grain and other goods through its southern ports.

The separate branch for drones will aid Ukraine with a “powerful impetus” to the military’s technological development, said Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation.

In the past year, drones have fundamentally changed the situation on the battlefield, the minister said. “They are effective in stopping Russian attacks and back up counterattacks by Ukraine’s armed forces,” he said.

Ukraine’s army chief Valeriy Zaluzhny has also backed the idea of drones in attacking Russia, calling the development of unarmed weapons systems “a central driver of this war”.

“Crucially, it is these unmanned systems – such as drones – along with other types of advanced weapons, that provide the best way for Ukraine to avoid being drawn into a positional war, where we do not possess the advantage,” General Zaluzhny wrote for CNN.

Ukraine has also relied heavily on its domestic production of drones in the war with Russia for over a year.

Government officials have said that Ukraine aims to produce tens of thousands of drones every month. No figures on current production are available, but since the start of the war, drone production has shot up, with dozens of companies developing and producing different models.

Associated Press contributed to this report