Ukraine’s President signed a decree on Tuesday to create a separate branch within the Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU) dedicated to the use of drones and associated technology.

Zelensky said during his nightly video address: “I have just signed a decree initiating the establishment of a separate branch of our Defense Forces – the Unmanned Systems Forces.

“This is not a matter of the future, but something that should yield a very concrete result shortly. This year should be pivotal in many ways. And, obviously, on the battlefield as well. Drones – unmanned systems – have proven their effectiveness in battles on land, in the sky and at sea.”

Zelensky said the plan would be submitted to the policy-making National Security and Defense Council to confirm the establishment of the branch.

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The announcement was hailed by Mikhail Fedorov, the Ukrainian government’s technology guru as an “important and historic decision,” on his Telegram channel.

Fedorov, who called the new branch the “Unmanned Systems Forces,” said that the potential of drones to change the course of the war had been proven through the creation of brigade-level strike drone companies a year ago.

He went on: “From day one, we participated in their [drone] development: We developed the structural organization, application doctrine, trained, provided with various types of drones, digitized their operation and interaction…

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“Drones have fundamentally changed the situation on the battlefield.

“The decision to create unmanned troops will be a powerful impetus to the technological and innovative development of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

Zelensky has advocated the need to develop domestic drone production for some time, as they proved their utility on the battlefield and pledged to produce a million drones in 2024.

He is not alone in praising the weapons and the impact they have already had, supplementing and filling the capability gap created by the current shortage of more conventional weapons such as artillery ammunition.

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Ukraine’s commander in chief, Valerii Zaluzhny, told CNN last week that drones were critical for the conduct of the war, saying:

“Crucially, it is these unmanned systems – such as drones – along with other types of advanced weapons, that provide the best way for Ukraine to avoid being drawn into a positional war, where we do not possess the advantage.”

In January the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, pledged a £2.5 billion ($3.2 billion) military aid package consisting of air defense, anti-tank and, long-range missiles which would also include the “largest ever commitment of [the provision of] drones.”

Fedorov said the work on drones within the Brave1 cluster had switched some of its focus to the “development of ground drones, which can already partially replace the machine gunner or make his work safer, go on the offensive, take out the wounded or deliver ammunition to the front line.”

Zelensky underlined the success of operations use of drones in every area of the war:

“Drones – unmanned systems – have proven their effectiveness in battles on land, in the sky and at sea. [They have] changed the security situation in the Black Sea... repelled ground assaults… [have achieved] the large-scale destruction of the occupiers and their equipment ... The current list of tasks is clear: special staff positions for drone operations, special units, effective training, systematization of experience, constant scaling of production, and the involvement of the best ideas and top specialists in this field.”

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In thanking the President for his decision, Fedorov said: “most importantly, every drone saves the lives of our heroes.”

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