As Ukraine focuses on drone warfare, its military creates new Unmanned Systems Forces branch

The Unmanned Systems Forces is a first of its kind, Ukrainian officials said.

June 12, 2024, 6:01 AM

KYIV, Ukraine -- Ukraine on Tuesday launched its Unmanned Systems Forces, a new branch of its military focused on drone warfare that officials said was the first of its kind.

"Ukraine is the only country in the world that has created the Unmanned Systems Forces, and this gives hope for the creation of a coalition of countries," said Ivan Havryliuk, deputy minister of Defense of Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had announced the creation of the new branch in February, saying that Ukrainian military drones "have proven their effectiveness in battles on land, in the sky and at sea."

The new branch's commander -- Col. Vadym Sukharevskyi, 39 -- was appointed to the position just a day before Tuesday's launch. He has been fighting against Russia since 2014. The commander goes by the callsign "Borsuk," which translates to "Badger," and has been referred to as a legend of the Russian-Ukrainian war. He was the first to give an order to open fire on the Russian militants in April 2014 as they were seizing the Donetsk region.

Ukrainian Col. Vadym Sukharevskyi unveils the emblem for the Unmanned Systems Forces in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.
Natalia Kushnir/ABC News

Drones have became a key piece of new technology for both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war. At first the Ukrainian Air Force used small commercial drones, like the DJI Mavic, for reconnaissance and dropping grenades. Then they switched to first-person view drones to attack enemy personnel and vehicles. And during the last two years Ukrainians have developed a series of different kinds of aerial, land and water drones to help to fight against the Russians when Ukraine doesn't have enough heavy weapons, artillery and jets.

"We have everything to win the war against the Russian Federation. Everything to replace a person in the trench, at sea, in the air and underwater," Havryliuk said.

"This is the future. No one has yet used maritime drones before Ukraine," Ukrainian MP Vadym Ivchenko said, adding that Ukraine managed to defeat the Russian Black Sea fleet without having its own fully fledged sea fleet.

An uncrewed drone is seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday as the country's military launches its Unmanned Systems Forces, a new branch of its military focused on drone warfare.
Natalia Kushnir/ABC News

Oleksandr Yarmak, platoon unrewed aerial vehicle commander, called the new branch a historical one of a global scale.

"This is an absolutely new structure in which nothing needs to be changed, instead we can create new approaches," he said.

The branch's emblem -- an iron swallow -- was created by AI. "It is a tender swallow that turns into a revenge machine," Yarmak said, adding that the swallow is among Ukrainian's favorite birds and is featured in the song "Shchedryk," a traditional New Year's Eve song.

Sukharevskyi, the commander, said that the launch of the new branch Ukraine showed the whole world that they have moved away from conservative approaches in the Armed Forces. "By creating the USF, we began to prepare for the war of the future, not for the war of the past," he said.

When asked by ABC News about American involvement, Sukharevskyi said, "The United States is one of our main strategic partners, and they are involved in many directions -- from reconnaissance to drones production".

"Coalition of drones works and it`s pretty efficient," he said, referring to an organization of countries participating in the production and transfer of drones to Ukraine that consists of Latvia, Great Britain, Sweden, Estonia, Germany, Netherlands, Lithuania, Denmark, Canada, Australia.

The commander explained that those forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which already have UAV control units, will not be subordinated to the new command, so as not to disrupt the established system of work and not to create chaos.

Sukharevskyi said that during the first five months of 2024, the state supplied the Armed Forces of Ukraine with six times more drones than for the entire year of 2023.

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