Beyond Human Sight: Ukraine’s AI Drones Target Enemy Uniforms And Vehicles – OpEd


A Ukrainian tech startup has created a new AI-powered drone that can identify and target things based on visual cues, such as specific uniforms. These drones can operate together in swarms and communicate with each other. The startup says the drones can make quick decisions on their own. But to avoid mistakes, such as hitting friendly targets, they need human approval before taking action.

In addition to potentially lethal actions, the new drones can also handle such traditional tasks as scouting, and gathering intelligence. According to Interesting Engineering, a science and engineering news portal, these drones can perform all these tasks “faster than a human ever could”. The new drones are expected to give Ukraine a big edge in fighting the Russian forces.

Serhii Kuprienko, the startup’s founder, compared the new drones to the game-changing effect of the steam engine in factories, according to the portal. Kuprienko believes these drones could greatly impact modern warfare and technology. Kuprienko said the primary aim was to get robots to do the fighting for humans. This approach highlights Ukraine’s growing investment in autonomous systems, aiming to gain an advantage over Moscow and reduce its own military casualties.

A recent report published by The Times had revealed that, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, there were roughly 20 military technology companies in Kyiv. Today, there are more than 200 organizations focusing on defence technology, especially autonomous systems. There is a difference between how the Russians fight a war and the way Ukrainians do, says Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Digital Transformation, Alex Bornyakov. They fight, die and send in more troops without counting their losses, but Ukraine holds a different view of war, he says.

Bornyakov mentioned that Ukraine was now testing swarm technology with at least one other company besides Krupiienko’s. He explained that, while the drones can function on their own, humans still need to verify targets to meet ethical and safety standards. These drones can technically operate on their own, says Kuprienko and mentions that his drones can be programmed to identify and fire based on uniforms. However, he stresses that they do not permit this for ethical and safety concerns.

An American drone expert, known as “Singer”, suggests that Ukraine may have already used AI for autonomous target elimination. He mentions that there is also an advanced American drone system capable of identifying enemy vehicles even if they are camouflaged, and coordinating automatic strikes.

He also mentioned to The Times that he remembered politicians promising they would never cross this borderline. However, he noted that this line had now been crossed without much public outcry. Debates still rage among military experts, lawyers and ethicists over the morality of using autonomous weapons, with widely varying opinions. Despite this, Kuprienko emphasises that a human commander must give the nod for every attack.

He admits that some commanders may want full autonomy for the swarm to make it as effective as possible, since a war is meant to be won. Like Bornyakov, he imagines a ‘kill box’ filled only with enemy targets where the swarm can act on its own.

Girish Linganna

Girish Linganna is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach him at: [email protected]

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