In February 2022four days after russia invasion of ukraineA man who goes by the pseudonym “Swat”, and who lives in Kiev, started 3D Printer Started making more plastic tailfins in my garage. The idea was to attach them to grenades, turning them into small bombs that could be dropped from drones.
A year later, SWAT (whose name means “interfere” in Ukrainian) helps run a network called the Druk (“printing”) army, which coordinates the output of about 300 3DPrinters across the country. SWAT says a similar network run by one man in Latvia has about 150 associates. After targets such as Hezbollah and Islamic State, such networks operate an underground manufacturing service, mostly funded by donations, that turns civilian drones designed for hobbyists, filmmakers and farmers into lethal weapons of war. Capable of converting.
The machines don’t last long after they reach the battlefield. Russian jams cause many accidents, says a Ukrainian soldier with the call-sign “Billy” who flies a drone away from the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk. He routinely loses a few machines a day, as do his peers.
Yet the role of drones in the defense of Ukraine is growing. A Ukrainian colonel in Kiev, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that, counting their role as reconnaissance machines for artillery, flying robots now directly or indirectly play a role in more than 70% of Russian casualties. Hacked together drones are cheaper, and in some cases more effective, than some purpose-designed military machines. The result, the colonel says, is “a new level of warfare”.
march of the makers
It is work that connects simplicity with frugality. An early technical hurdle was devising a way to allow civilian drones to carry and drop bombs. hobbyists came up with a clever solution by adding 3DPrinted clamp for an electric motor. The motor is connected to a photo-receptive sensor which, in turn, is located under the incoming light as standard on many consumer drones. (The purpose of the lights is to allow night flying and to make the drone more visible). When an operator turns on the light, the motor kicks in, the gripper opens, and the payload moves away. “Mag”, a young man from Kiev who has made about 2,000 of these gizmos, says they cost about $10 each.
Once a grenade is dropped, it has to be coaxed to explode. In the years since Russia seized parts of eastern Ukraine in 2014, hand grenades were squeezed into glass jars that kept their handles closed. When dropped, the glass will shatter, freeing the handle and detonating the grenade. The drawback, says Billy, the drone operator, is that the glass is heavy, and doesn’t always break.
These days the handle of a grenade is held in place with a plastic ring stamped in a shape designed to snap even when landing on soft ground. For grenades designed to be fired from a launcher, rather than thrown by hand, the standard fuse is replaced by 3D-Printed tip containing a nail. The impact pushes the wedge into the detonator of the grenade, causing it to explode.
The engineers described the work as exciting. Once a design is created, feedback from users comes quickly. Many of the best creations are distributed to other workshops by organizers like Swat. he points to a computer file that gives instructions to 3D To make the printer a particularly insidious item. A plastic encasement containing ball bearings, it fits around an anti-tank mine, turning it into an anti-personnel weapon that can be dropped from large drones.
Some work involves augmenting the drones themselves, rather than building clever payloads to carry them. A workshop in Kiev, calling itself Eyes of the Army, specializes in converting eight-rotor drones designed for crop-dusting into one-member “heavy” bombers. The machines carry four Soviet-era mortar rounds. Each shell weighs 3 kg and can destroy a tank if properly aimed.
The trick is getting closer. The sound of the crop duster can be heard up to half a kilometer away, so the team installs quieter transmission systems and rotors. An infrared sensor has also been added, as have long-range radios made by Dragon Link, an American firm.
Eye of the Army crew spend part of their time flying combat missions at night with the permission of Ukrainian commanders. Now and then enough donations piled in for the team to build a full assault package for other civilian warriors at a cost of about $35,000. In addition to the modified drone, it includes an off-road vehicle upgraded with light armor, a control computer with goggles, and multiple battery packs, which allow the drone to perform multiple flights in quick succession.
Russia flies its own drones, which Ukrainian commanders want to bring down. A rocketry hobbyist nicknamed “Rocketryn” in a city in Ukraine builds his second version of such a system, on a workbench at home. Dubbed Mosquito, it launches from a tube. The next step is to install a camera, which will power an automated guidance system. Unlike most surface-to-air missiles, which destroy themselves along with their targets, the Moskit uses compressed air to blow out nets designed to engage enemy drones. A parachute rescues the interceptor for reuse.
rocketryn 3D Prints most parts. He says this approach allows for rapid design changes, so it’s good for prototyping. But a complex component can take up to ten hours to print, and the demand on the front for drones is “endless”. So he probably plans to set up a production line equipped with conventional tools in a car mechanic shop.
All this improvisation saves money. The military eyes that its modified octocopters cost a fifth as much as imported military drones with similar capabilities. In another workshop elsewhere in Ukraine, a team of 30 volunteers is cutting carbon fiber with lasers to produce a kamikaze quadcopter that fires 1.5kg of explosives at targets up to 8km away. Everyone uav 7, as the contraceptive is called, costs about $450; Assembling the (reusable) control console costs about $1,500. The comparison is imperfect, but the Switchblade 300, a kamikaze drone with a similar payload and range, manufactured by AeroVironment, an American firm, is said to cost around $6,000 a pop.
Ukrainian troops piloted both machines into heavily jammed airspace around the eastern city of Bakhmut. An official says that about 50 or so drones from both sides are in the sky at any one point. The operators there tell the boss of the workshop, whose pseudonym is Boevsky, that uav The Switchblade 300 is more resistant to Russian electronic warfare than the 7 – although they won’t go into technical details. One advantage is a clever signal repeater, designed with input from soldiers at the front, which greatly expands uavRange of -7.
Secrecy is a high priority, lest pro-Kremlin decide to “revenge”, as noted by Druk army SWATs. He carefully checks volunteers, who must first be recommended by people he knows. He also refrains from putting the volunteers in contact with each other. One way to produce military drones is to do so under the guise of an existing factory that makes civilian goods. Last year the owner of one such factory near Kiev quietly asked some workers to turn on Mavic 3s, a hobbyist quadcopter sold by the company. dji, a Chinese company, in bombers. Today, the firm’s 15 employees produce about 5,000 quadcopter bombers a month, so far without attracting Russian attention.
The one weak link, the firm’s owner says, is its reliance on electric motors imported from China at a cost of $16 each. Like some others in Ukraine, he fears China, which has refused to condemn Russia’s aggression, could restrict supplies. So the company’s engineers are developing their own electric motor, which is estimated to cost just $5. The design is “primitive”, the owner admits. But the higher the attrition rate, he says, the longer the components need to last. Business friends cover his costs with monthly donations totaling in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Outside of Ukraine, firms sympathetic to the cause do not need to be so secretive. Ivan Tolchinsky, e CEO Atlas Aerospace, a maker of non-military drones based in Riga, says they have looked into mass-producing the converted civilian craft for use in combat. He quit after determining that obtaining the necessary permits would take a year, and would make sales to citizens more difficult. However, he notes that a handful of Atlas engineers, working on their own time, are assisting Ukraine’s reformers with technical drawings and advice. One such engineer, who requested anonymity, says he sent designs for better radio systems, and helped calculate how much payload the cobbled-together drones could carry.
street finds its use for things
As one Ukrainian soldier in Kiev points out, domestic culture is fertile ground for homespun engineering. Ukraine’s education system emphasizes both math and engineering. The same is true in Russia, but the culture in Ukraine, he says, encourages individual initiative that Russia’s more authoritarian system does not.
In the West, says Kostyantyn Leonenko of Tolocar, a charity based in Hamburg that aims to foster “innovation through mass collaboration” in Ukraine, for example, tinkering is often a playful pastime – making cute robot toys Separation of abandoned machines. In Ukraine, a middle-income country, this is a more practical business. Tolokar teams teach people how to insulate homes, replace broken windows, fix plumbing, and make things like electric heating mats and cooking stoves.
A visit to Ostriv, a “maker lab” in Kiev partially funded by the Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture, is illuminating. Mr. Leonenko and a colleague, going to teach bicycle making in Chernihiv, set up a computerized milling machine. The Warren of Rooms already has a carpentry shop, a metalworking space and laser cutting, sewing and 3 equipmentD printing. Kos Kuchabski, who runs the place, says its tinkerers have made bulletproof vests, caltrops, medical bags and beds for those displaced by the fighting. For a while, the four members of Austrive made suicide drones, before moving on to a workshop specializing in such things.
Back at HQ, the colonel in Kiev considers this duct-tape-and-belling-wire ecosystem a miracle. Its elements may be incorporated into the procurement process of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. Mag, the manufacturer of the dropping mechanism, is already receiving official letters with orders for goods, without payment.
Russia’s military, for its part, is fielding a growing number of similarly modified commercial drones. But its effort is relatively nascent. It also lacks Ukraine-level support from civilian technical experts. As a result, experts say, the effect of Russia’s floating drones has been less striking. The big question is whether this will change.