MILAN, Italy — Latvian drone company Atlas Dynamics plans to open in early 2023 a research and development factory in Ukraine and later on a production plant in collaboration with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence.
Since the outbreak of the war in February, Atlas Dynamics has delivered a total of 300 Atlas Pro tricopter drones to Ukrainian troops with an additional 75 set to be deployed in mid-January, according to the company’s chief executive. Thus far, small groups have been relying on the drones to find and expose Russian troop locations that can then be relayed to artillery units.
The company is now undergoing a rapid expansion. Previously, its efforts were on increasing global exports, but its attention has now shifted entirely to Ukraine as “it currently has the most incredible experience of modern warfare that is invaluable and can significantly help improve products and create new ones,” founder and CEO Ivan Tolchinsky said. The Riga-based company has also hired Ukrainian refugees to help speed up its production rate.
The company declined to disclose the precise location of the R&D office or the future assembly plant. While the first will be opened in a matter of “months,” according to Tolchinsky, the company is still coordinating with the Ukrainian Ministry on the details of the production facility. Even so, he said cooperation with Kyiv has already begun for “the creation of new products and types of equipment.”
At a weight of 1.9 kilograms (4.1 pounds), the Atlas Pro is much lighter than other platforms seen in Ukraine, and falls under the category of mini-drones, designed primarily for intelligence and surveillance missions as it is resilient against electronic warfare interference. According to Tolchinsky, the concept behind its development was that it had to be simple, convenient and easy enough for all to operate, which is why “we removed the joystick from our first remote as they gave the feeling that it was difficult to control the drone.”
In recent months, unmanned systems have drawn significant attention in Ukraine.
“Systems like the Bayraktar TB2 do help Ukraine; it is just that their use requires the cooperation of various branches of the military and other equipment to make its use effective,” Tolchinsky said. “It cannot win the war on its own, nor is it a golden wand but only a cog in a vast machine.”
He adds that although Atlas Dynamics has a long-standing relationship with the Ukrainian MoD and that the Atlas Pro was adapted to their requirements, the first weeks following the invasion showed that not all of them coincided with the realities of the war and changes had to be made. Among them, operators wanted more powerful batteries and larger swarming capabilities.
According to company projections, the ability to launch and control 50 of these drones at a time will be possible as early as the first quarter of 2023. Tolchinsky further said the company is developing new, higher-resolution cameras alongside other technologies that will be available soon.
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.