Instead, Ukraine wants to use the data that’s being gathered for its own defense sector. “After the war has finished, Ukraine companies will go to the market and offer solutions that probably nobody else has,” Bornyakov says.
Over the past few months, Ukraine has been talking up its ambitions to leverage its battlefield innovations to build a military-tech industry of its own.
“We want to build a very strong defense tech industry,” says Nataliia Kushnerska, project lead for Brave1, a Ukrainian state platform designed to make it easier for defense-tech companies to pitch their products to the military. The country still wants to partner and cooperate with international companies, she says, but there is a growing emphasis on homegrown solutions.
Building a domestic industry would help protect the country from future Russian aggression, Kushnerska says. And Ukrainians have a better understanding of the dynamics of the battlefield than their international counterparts. “Technologies that cost a huge amount of money, made in [overseas] laboratories, are coming to the front line, and they’re not working,” she says.
Brave1—which was exclusively open to Ukrainian companies for its first two months of existence—is not the country’s only attempt to build a homegrown industry. Kushnerska describes secret tech conferences, attended by Ukrainian tech executives and Ministry of Defense officials, where discussions can take place about what the militaries need and how companies can help. In May, Ukraine’s parliament voted through a series of tax breaks for drone makers, in an attempt to encourage the industry. Those government efforts, combined with the huge demand for drones and the motivation to win the war, is creating entire new industries, says Bornyakov. He claims the country now has more than 300 companies making drones.
One of those 300 companies is AeroDrone, which started out as a crop-spraying system based in Germany. By the time of the full-scale invasion, the company’s Ukrainian founder, Yuri Pederi, had already moved back to his home country. But the war inspired him to pivot the business. Now the drones, which can carry heavy loads of up to 300 kilograms, are being used by the Ukrainian military.
“We don’t know what the military are carrying,” says Dmytro Shymkiv, a partner at the company, who used to be deputy chief of staff for Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president who preceded Zelenskyy. He might plead ignorance to what AeroDrone drones are transporting, but the company is collecting vast amounts of data—up to 3,000 parameters—on each flight. “We are very much aware of what’s going on with every piece of equipment on board,” he says, adding that information about flying while being jammed, or in different weather conditions, can be repurposed in other industries or even other conflicts.
Aerodrone offers a glimpse of the future companies Bornyakov is describing. Armed with that data, the company sees a wide range of options for its future once the war is over, both military and civilian. If you can fly in a war zone, Shymkiv says, you can fly anywhere.