I attended a fabulous session at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) this week, organized by the Strategy Council and the Kinstellar law firm, "The Ukrainian Defence Forum", which aimed to bring together Ukrainian and UK defense innovators to help Ukraine win the war against Russian aggression.

A keynote address was provided by the head of the UK joint chief of staff, Admiral, Tony Radakin, but also in attendance was Haluk Bayraktar, of the Turkish drone company, Baykar, who has earned near cult status in Ukraine for the role played by Baykar in Ukraine's defense. Bayraktar drones were critical in the first few weeks of the war in turning around those columns of Russian tanks heading to Kyiv - and they continue to be effective in Ukraine's defense.

It was truly inspiring to hear Ukrainian defense innovators talk about their products - which have shown extraordinary development (forced) thru testing in combat.

Two striking comments from participants, which really shows the extraordinary role of technology in this war.

First, from a senior Western defense official who highlighted that this war has already seen a non-naval power (Ukraine) effectively defeat a naval power (Russia) in the Black Sea. Ukrainian naval drones/missiles have already sunk numerous Russian naval vessels in/around the Black Sea and forcing Russia's remaining Black Sea Fleet vessels to seek safe haven in now heavily fortified ports further East. But Russia is not able to deploy its naval assets freely into the Black Sea because of advances in Ukraine's naval warfare capability. In effect, Ukraine already won the Battle of the Black Sea, barring new innovation to protect their remaining fleet.

Second, and related, a Ukrainian military official made the comment that the main challenge for Ukrainian naval drones is now the lack of Russian targets in the Black Sea - because these same assets have been forced to deploy East, as far away from Ukrainian drones/missiles.


There is a lot of focus on recent Ukrainian military setbacks on land, and the challenges defending its skies and cities, but 

in the Black Sea, Ukraine's success in pushing back the Russian Black Sea Fleet has been quite extraordinary - and it will be a salutary lesson for navies around the world.

Listening to the various panels the strong message that comes through is that while troop numbers (mobilization) and money (resources - see my previous posts whereupon I identify that the West is not funding Ukraine to win at present, and needs to do more) are important, innovation can give Ukraine the vital edge over Russia - it can be a path to victory.

In terms of the drone space, it seems to be a constant battle between the hunter and the hunted, between drones and countermeasures, and a constant battle between innovators on both sides. China/Iran are giving Russia an advantage in terms of scale, and that is where Ukraine and its allies need to do more.

But victory through innovation is still possible for Ukraine, and I am convinced it has the advantage in innovation - but it’s a constant treadmill or "rat race" as one participant coined it. I guess the big difference/advantage for Ukraine over Russia is that Ukrainians are fighting/innovating for their survival, they are more committed to the fight, while Ukraine's decentralized system certainly helps promote innovation over Russia's more centralized approach.


The more state directed Russian model perhaps gives it the advantage in scale production - and there again financing is the key advantage at present for Russia. Networking also is to the advantage to Ukraine - as its innovators are able to network into the NATO/Western innovation/tech space. Let's hope Western sanctions keep Russian innovators out of that same space.

The war in Ukraine has been unique in being the first conflict which pits man against machine/drone, and the lessons learned now will be/are transformational for changing the face of war for decades to come. 

This war is probably the biggest learning curve for the global defense industry for decades, perhaps even larger than the First Gulf War, "shock n' awe" experience - albeit the latter did not change the very nature of warfare it cemented the combined arms doctrine.

This war looks set to change/define the very nature of warfare. And I think this conflict also has the ability to change/impact on the very form/shape of global governance - Western Liberal Market Democracy vs Autocracy. A lot is at stake - Glory to the Ukrainian Innovator, Slava Ukraini! But combining the two, it will be important in the latter battle which side learns the lessons from the first point, and how drones will change the nature of warfare.

I hope here that the UK military, and its allies, figure out that riding on the coattails, and actually fully supporting Ukraine, will enable them to make the leap in terms of defense technologies able to best compete against those same authoritarian regimes noted above. A small investment in Ukraine now, could see a multiples return in terms of future defense capability.


Reprinted from the author’s @tashecon blog! See the original here.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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