MILAN — With the third winter of war well underway in Ukraine, the country’s military-industrial complex is in a race against the technological clock to out-innovate Russian invaders.

The uncertainty looming over the future of foreign military aid to Ukraine and the slow deliveries of pledged equipment from allies have affected how Kyiv designs and develops weapons.

The recent rhetoric of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has put a stronger emphasis on the importance of localizing arms production and investing in domestic capabilities to the greatest extent possible.

This has entailed pushing innovations in key technological sectors, according to one of the leaders of Brave1, a Ukrainian government entity in charge of speeding up development and delivery of defense equipment samples to the frontlines.

“Two years of war has shown us that we are competing with technology — we are working with various solutions including drones, robotics, electronic warfare, cybersecurity and command-and-control management systems,” Nataliia Kushnerska, project lead at Brave1, told Defense News.

Thus far, 473 developments have received BRV1 status, which means they have passed the military expertise level of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, she added.

One of the companies involved in this process is Piranha-Tech, which since 2014 has specialized in manufacturing electronic warfare systems to protect combat vehicles against drone threats.

“Our Piranha AVD 360 system was designed to protect armored vehicles from Russian drones, by creating a protective dome up to 600 meters around itself and suppressing satellite navigation systems,” Anatolii Khrapchynskyi, deputy director general of Piranha-Tech, told Defense News.

New systems are developed so fast that some systems fielded only months ago are now deemed outdated.

“New challenges come up continuously, so our process of fine-tuning weapons is non-stop — hence the first variant of the Piranha AVD, presented in September, is already considered old and has already been supplied to our forces,” Khrapchynskyi said.

Another company rapidly adapting to the battlefield realities is Skiftech, a Ukrainian manufacturer of tactical simulators that uses laser technology. Over the last few months, it has been developing six new types at the request of Ukraine’s military.

“One of them is a simulator for Stinger man-portable air defense systems, designed to train the algorithm of sequential actions to bring the weapon into combat readiness and improve skills in detecting air targets, using the mock-up of the FIM-92 Stinger,” Revide Ziiatdinova, media manager at Skiftech, said.

The representative said it took the company eight months from the initial request to supply the first two orders to the Ukrainian armed forces.

Unmanned capabilities

Another innovation developed by members of the Brave1 defense cluster is a combat robot dubbed Liut, of which a prototype was trialed in September.

Since then, engineers have improved it with greater cross-country mobility and equipped it with a new combat module to allow for a more compact size and more ammunition supplies, the developer said in a statement to Defense News.

Additionally, a sight has been developed that can be equipped with optical infrared cameras or a thermal imager for enhanced covert threat detection. Liut is currently undergoing internal testing to obtain final clearance before entering serial production.

Ukraine’s strategy has placed a special focus on the quantity of unmanned systems its defense companies are able to generate at the cheapest cost, which has enabled soldiers to continue to survive in a do-it-yourself battlefield.

“Given that anything that moves in the Ukraine combat will be observed, tracked and hit with a drone, many of these unmanned ground vehicle designs are very simple and inexpensive, DIY-ed at the front by units or delivered by volunteers,” said Samuel Bendett, an adviser on Russian military capabilities at the Center for Naval Analyses.

Aerial drones have also been at the forefront of the country’s defense priorities, resulting in the number of companies in this space growing from seven to 80 since 2022, according to the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

Many of those being tested were designed for mine detection purposes, such as the ST-1, developed by Ailand Systems.

“The search for mines is carried out by the autonomous drone, thanks to a simple metal detector it is equipped with such as those used by sappers,” the company’s chief executive, Dmytro Titov, said in an email.

Should the war last another year, some manufacturers are confident it would give Ukraine “a major technological boost,” Khrapchynskyi said.

Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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