Correction: A previous version misstated Marko Peljhan’s position with C-Astral and financial figures for the firm. That individual is a co-founder, and the company’s revenue from sales rose from €1.5 million to €4.07 million in 2022.
BRNO, Czech Republic — Slovenian drone maker C-Astral recently provided reconnaissance systems to Ukrainian troops, the company told Defense News this week.
Slovenia does not shy away from voicing its support for Ukraine. But when it comes to military aid, the country has generally decided to keep most details classified.
Among the largest known military donations Slovenia contributed from its own stocks to Ukraine was the delivery of dozens of BVP M80A infantry fighting vehicles last year. But more recently, the Slovenian-made unmanned aerial system Belin — otherwise known as Bramor C4EYE — also made their way to the embattled country.
“It [the drone] is in fact being used by the Ukrainians and has been for some time,” Jernej Moderc, a Bramor drone pilot at C-Astral, told Defense News at the GSOF Symposium held Oct. 24-26 in Brno. “We do have some communication channels with the troops using them to get feedback and make improvements accordingly.”
Moderc could not disclose when and how many of the drones reached Ukraine, but did say it was fairly recent and involved several systems.
It’s unclear whether the systems were sent directly and solely by the company, or if the Slovenian Defence Ministry provided the technology from its own inventory, as the country operates the drone type.
The ministry declined to comment for this story. And in a follow-up statement to Defense News, C-Astral said it did not directly provide drones to Ukraine but rather donated them through a Slovenian government initiative.
The Belin drone is entirely manufactured and assembled in Slovenia by C-Astral. It is an unarmed aircraft primarily intended for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions as well as to follow convoys.
Launched from a catapult, the system has a maximum endurance of three hours and can operate out to a distance of 40 kilometers (25 miles) via a line-of-sight communications link.
The company said electronic warfare has proved the main challenge for its drones in Ukraine, with another C-Astral drone operator and trainer noting the need to bolster the resilience of the aircraft navigation systems against spoofing or to overcome a loss of signal.
“Even if you have replacements available, a drone’s global navigation satellite system is often susceptible to being jammed above enemy territory or its communications link with a pilot may be cut out,” the individual told Defense News, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. “We’re also seeing instances of friendly electronic warfare, where Ukraine’s electronic warfare systems will jam their own drones, hindering effective command and control.”
Since its debut in 2007, C-Astral’s defense business has expand. The company’s co-founder, Marko Peljhan, told the Slovenian media outlet Bloomberg Adria in July that the firm saw a 262% increase in its 2022 revenue. Revenue from sales rose from €1.5 million to €4.07 million (U.S. $1.6 million to U.S. $4.31 million) that year, Peljhan had explained. He partly attributed these figures to a surge in demand for drones since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
In August, Slovenia and Montenegro signed an agreement to jointly procure the Belin drone. The contract, worth an estimated €3 million, will see the first units delivered to Montenegro next year, according to company representatives.
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.