Ukraine is preparing for the second generation of small drone warfare. The nation, which remains locked into a stalemate with Russian-backed separatists in its eastern provinces, was one of the first proving grounds of hobbyist drones pressed into military use. With a new quadcopter, designed specifically for military use, Ukraine may have a tool adapted to the lessons of its recent conflict.
The drone is dubbed "Bereginya," which loosely translates as “Savior.” It resembles a regular, off-the-shelf quadcopter, except it has a distinctive black humped back, as though an alien body is hitching a ride on a familiar toy. Bereginya is made by Meridian Corporation, which is part of Ukraine' UkrOboronProm defense conglomerate.
“Meridian claims that it took only six months to develop and test this UAV, once the company was contacted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense,” said Samuel Bendett, a fellow in Russia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. “This is significant, given that delays usually accompany defense procurement. The loses to pro-Russian forces back in 2014 and 2015 were due in part to the inability of the Ukrainian military to get an accurate situational awareness.”
The Bereginya weights 2.2 pounds, has a range of 7.5 miles, and includes parts made with 3D printers, which suggests easy repair near the field. It’s designed to get to an altitude of 330 feet in just 3 seconds, and to operate in high winds.
“This is a tactical, close support vehicle that is supposed to aid troops with situational awareness, surveillance and reconnaissance,” said Bendett, an adviser at the Center for Naval Analyses. “It’s other defining feature is that Meridian claims its has ‘secure communications,’ which presumably would allow its operator to work securely, without being identified by adversary’s electronic warfare systems.”
All of this suggests a dedicated product to meet the immediate needs of the military, needs previously met by commercial models adapted into military service. That includes hobbyist drones adapted into light bombers, 3D-printed drone bomb parts, and a battlefield environment rich in electronic warfare.
“Bereginya is also a major step up from many COTS models that were hurriedly put into military service by Ukrainian volunteers,” said Bendett. And while the hostilities around the Donbas region have presently settled into a kind of lull, the possibility of renewed fighting is certainly at the forefront of acquisitions. “The Bereginya drone, if truly hardened against EW interference, would be a key element on the front lines, considering how vulnerable Ukrainian forces were to EW back in 2014-2015.”
Small drones are already a relatively cheap, commercial technology that can be iterated into a military tool. If Ukraine sees utility in doing so, other military planners and designers might take note.
Watch Bereginya in flight below:
Kelsey Atherton blogs about military technology for C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain, Defense News, and Military Times. He previously wrote for Popular Science, and also created, solicited, and edited content for a group blog on political science fiction and international security.