Ukrainian EW developer on anti-drone warfare – interview

Currently, the Ukrainian Defense Forces use both foreign and domestic models of anti-drone guns to combat enemy air targets
Currently, the Ukrainian Defense Forces use both foreign and domestic models of anti-drone guns to combat enemy air targets

Electronic warfare (EW) is growing ever more important for Ukraine’s military. In an article for The Economist, Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi described EW as the key to victory in the war, potentially allowing Ukraine to break the stalemate on the battlefield.

The Ukrainian Air Force recently announced that EW systems are now used to disrupt the navigation and targeting of Russian kamikaze drones, driving them kilometers away from their intended targets.

NV asked Anatolii Khrapchynskyi, deputy CEO of a Ukrainian company that manufactures EW systems (the company’s name is classified for security reasons) about how electronic countermeasures will affect the course of the war, going forward.

NV: Your company produces EW systems. Tell us about your projects.

Khrapchynskyi: In terms of miltech [military technology], there’s a need for tactical-level EW systems to counter FPV [first-person view] drones, attack UAVs, and reconnaissance drones. We’re engaged in the development of EW systems against these drones. Currently, we have serial production of anti-drone guns, in particular trench-level variants of directed action [jamming devices] and dome defenses, which are mounted directly on military vehicles. This weapon, so to speak, is the last line of defense, the one that protects troops in the trenches.

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We also have ongoing development and prototypes of systems with greater power and range. For example, such systems can counter Russian Orlan recon UAVs at a range of up to 20 kilometers.

In addition, the company is actively advancing in the development of radar detection technology. In particular, we started developing low-altitude field radar systems. Why would there be an urgent need for these weapons now? Because there are currently no means around the world that can detect air targets at an altitude of 50 to 500 meters, at long distances. But with the help of such radars, we’ll be able to detect Shahed-type drones at a distance of up to 50 kilometers. Thus, it will be possible to intercept them before they reach cities.

This is a new field of activity for us. We already have agreements with instituions, so I think a test version will be ready in a couple of months. These will be both mobile active and passive radars.

NV: How have your products proven themselves at the front?

Khrapchynskyi: First of all, we should realize that EW systems are high-tech weapons. Therefore, it’s important not only to supply these products, but also to carefully train the troops to use them correctly. Most of them don’t have a professional radio engineering education, while working with EW requires an understanding of radio electronics, the theory of radio wave propagation, etc. Therefore, the most important step is to teach the military to use these systems correctly. The effect will be much greater then.

If a soldier operates an anti-drone gun with antennae mounted at a certain turning angle, he must understand that these antennae must be placed at the right angle to suppress the target at a certain distance and altitude. Therefore, personnel training must be carried out extremely carefully so that there is an understanding of how to effectively counter enemy UAVs. Using EW equipment, he must consider the laws of physics and the laws of radio wave propagation.

As for the feedback on our products from the military, it is favorable.

NV: How difficult are these weapons to use?

Khrapchynskyi: I’d say that new roles should be introduced in the Armed Forces, such as an anti-drone gun operator, radio electronic intelligence operator, and UAV detection operator. The operator’s task is to detect an enemy aerial weapon and neutralize it. It’s quite difficult, because the operator during several hours of duty is actively scanning frequency ranges to detect enemy targets. After that, these targets should be detected visually, etc. Therefore, it’s really difficult, and it’s a new realm of warfare which we should take very seriously.

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At the same time, we should realize that if we offer EW that would, let’s say, completely jam enemy UAVs at certain distances, it will also prevent our troops from using similar drones in the area.

When, for example, EW systems are turned on at certain sections of the front line that cover some frequency bands, then, having this information, the units that perform combat missions on FPV drones understand that there is no need to fly into this sector because the drone can be jammed there, or fly on other frequencies to pass though the zone of interference from their own EW systems. That’s why the issue of improving communication between units becomes urgent which, in turn, makes it possible to create layered EW coverage.

However, I would like to clarify something. The fact is that most people think of EW as countering only drones. But in fact, it has a much wider application. Thanks to EW, the enemy can lose radio communication between units, which leads to communication disruption, and loss of control.

This can be achieved both by ordinary EW systems and by special artillery shells fired at a certain range, with the loss of communication within a radius of, let’s say, 500 meters for half an hour.

EW can also jam satellite navigation; thus, the precision of UAVs, missiles, or guided projectiles deteriorates.

In addition, EW can blind enemy air defense radars, allowing friendly aircraft to penetrate deep behind enemy lines.

EW also creates false targets when launching missiles or gives a false impression that an entire air wing or an air defense system is operating in a given area.

NV: Does your production scale well? How much has output grown over the past year?

Khrapchynskyi: Our production volumes have increased significantly. Let’s put it this way: the demand for our products has increased by about 70% over the past year, so we’re now gradually scaling up production to meet these demands.

NV: Where does your financing come from? Do you need government support?

Khrapchynskyi: Financing is carried out by reinvesting our revenue. Thus, we’re gradually increasing production.

As for the state’s function, in fact we want guaranteed order volumes and contracts from the state, as well as more active participation in communicating what the military needs. Because as long as the state tries to resolve all issues to allow a product to be used, i.e., an EW system, the enemy changes the frequency range. We’re in an active struggle here, so there is a need to streamline the [military certification] system.

Although, in fact, the state has simplified most of the systems, we still must have direct communication, for example, with military units that trial our prototypes.

NV: What problems does the company face in the production of EW systems?

Khrapchynskyi: The government has simplified taxation on imports of ready-made EW equipment into Ukraine. But as for the material base, we continue to purchase everything with VAT, and then sell the finished product without VAT.

NV: How do you see the prospects for Ukraine’s defense industry?

Khrapchynskyi: While at the meetings with the Polish Army’s Department of Innovation and the NATO Innovation Office, I saw the following trend: all those present developers and representatives of foreign companies carefully recorded and learned about how everything works on the front line in Ukraine. I would like to note that the available Western EW models perform certain functions, but they don’t fully meet all our needs. It’s our development of EW systems that helps bridge this gap. These systems are small and convenient, and they don’t need to be placed on the vehicle chassis but can be carried in backpacks.

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Therefore, if it’s about the Ukrainian defense industry’s possibilities, I’m sure that now we have a great chance to build our industry for the production of EW equipment and sell these products all over the world.

But here we need to involve the state in this issue so that it creates certain conditions for this sector, so that such a business can develop, so that it feels the support of the state. Or to offer tax breaks or some other benefits to manufacturers. Not to copy Chinese products, but rather to create and find solutions so that these devices, whether domestic generators or broadband amplifiers, are built with quality components. In addition, to look for opportunities to produce as much as possible directly in Ukraine and thus reduce dependence on foreign components.

It’s clear that we won’t be able to abandon Taiwanese- or U.S.-made microchips, but we still must develop in this direction to minimize the problems we may face in case of unstable relations with any of the supplier countries.

NV: Do you have plans to export anti-drone guns and anti-UAV systems to foreign markets? How much in demand could this weapon be?

Khrapchynskyi: EW systems are much in demand weapons, and many countries already want to purchase them.

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As an example, I’ll tell you about my friends who produce UAVs. Their drones are competitive and far superior to those produced by Boeing for the U.S. military, for example. So, a Ukrainian-made UAV performs the same role as a U.S.-made one and is made up of 90% of the same components, but it costs, for example, $100,000, while the U.S. one costs $1.5 million.

Therefore, it’s necessary to give Ukraine the opportunity to saturate the market. Given that the existing domestic models were created during the war, we have a guaranteed mark of quality since they were tested in battle.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine