“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (I Corinthians 13:11)
Finishing reading this essay by Nikita Volchenko, today we switch from hobbyist armor technology and amateur tanks, to the theme of cyber warfare.
As with Engineering, the Ukraine inherited from the Soviet Union a very strong legacy and infrastructure in Mathematics and the physical sciences. And not all of that legacy has been squandered in the past 25 years: Ukraine still boasts a substantial cadre of Information Technology (I.T.) specialists; and still produces meaningful product in this arena.
Some of these cadres and products have been recruited by the Ukrainian army. For example, at the Noosphere Engineering School in Dnipropetrovsk, cadres are working on systems of automated control of artillery fire, to assist the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” against Donbass. The Ukrainian armed forces have staked much on the “artillery solution” to the Separatist problem. In a war waged with unmanned reconnaissance and real-time maneuvering, success depends on the speed and accuracy of the artillery strikes; and also the ability to fall back quickly from the ensuing artillery counter-barrage. Using a new Operating System called ArtOS, the Ukrainians have managed to shorten the time between the acquiring of the target and the opening salvo. The automated, computerized artillery helps to exclude human error, which is important in these conditions where many artillery officers are poorly trained reserves.
Despite these real assets, the Ukrainian I.T. segment is experiencing the very same problems as is the entire country, under the leadership of the EuroMaidan political victors. Manufacturing companies are under enormous pressure from the Ukrainian Security forces and Internal Affairs (=the Secret Police), who use the pretext of “the war against Terrorism” and “the war against Separatism” to squeeze these companies dry on behalf of the oligarchs. As a consequence, entire teams of talented Start-Ups are bailing out and heading for greener pastures in Poland, the Czech Republic, and the United States. In the last two years 9,000 I.T. professionals have emigrated from the Ukraine, creating a significant Brain Drain.
One area of technological success, however, is in the development of Flying Drone technology. This technology is developing at a rapid pace all over the world. [In the U.S., for example, one can walk into a convenience store and buy a drone for around $50 bucks to show off at parties: The device can fly overhead, take photos, upload them to Facebook, and can even perform aerial stunts to amuse your guests.]
The Ukrainian company Drone.ua is manufacturing drones for use in agriculture, geodesics and cartography. Their product is good enough to export. At a price of only $2,400 per piece, towards the end of 2016 the company sold around a thousand of these models. According to Forbes, this company is one of the top 20 innovationist enterprises in the Ukraine.
And while Drone.ua has primarily agricultural applications, the Ukrainian military was not slow to grasp the importance of military applications as well. The “Spektator” drone was developed by the company “Meridian”, in partnership with the Kiev Polytechnic Institute. This drone can carry out military assignments such as reconnaissance, it can fly up to a height of 2 kilometers and reach a speed of 120 km/hour. It can fly for 2 hours without recharging and receive a signal from up to 30 km away.
Still other brands of Ukrainian drones, for example, “Furia” and “Leleka-100” are being tested by the Ukrainian military. The “Furia” is produced by the Scientific-Industrial (Научно-производственное предприятие –НПП) Aerospace Company “Atlon Avia” based in Kiev. Judging by the imagery on their Facebook, Atlon traces its lineage back, not to the successes of Soviet aviation against Nazi Germany, but to the American victory against Japan in 1945.
Evil tongues claim that the “Furia”, in any case, is just a cheap rip-off of an American drone called RVJet, manufactured by the company RangeVideo, and assembled in China! Which might explain the Iwo Jima imagery. Well-known Ukrainian software developer Yury Kasyanov (here is a link to his youtube channel) claims that the purchase of drones by the Ukrainian military is just another corruptionist scheme to line the pockets of certain individuals: “It’s a good day when the manufacturing company receives $50,000 from each sale. I’m talking about embezzlement and kickbacks. Yes, they made some improvements; yes, the drone technology got more expensive, but not 15 times more! The purchases take place in the context of corruption, because when the apparatus costs $5,000 to make, and the army purchases it as $35,000, then it is clear to everyone that a portion of the profits go into the pockets of the bureaucrats.”
Kasyanov is no dissident or Sep-symp: He was a EuroMaidan activist who went on to contribute quite a lot to the Ukrainian war effort. As a member of the volunteer team “Armiya SOS”, he built systems of unmanned surveillance which collected valuable information on Separatist positions. After some conflicts within his team (Kasyanov appears to be one of those cranky types who can’t get along with other people), he started up a new project to build drones, which he dubbed “The Matrix”. With start-up money from an investor, he is building a heavy-duty drone called “Commandore” which he says will be able to carry weapons. When listening to Kasyanov’s opinions, one should take into account that his projects compete for funds with other projects such as the “Furia”; and that Kasyanov counts himself as one of the small-shop “Davids” up against the military-industrial “Goliaths” such as Atlon Avia.
Kasyanov again, speaking with bitterness: “Hobbyist, home-made drones are being used extensively at the front, along with those manufactured by small shops. These devices are being used for reconnaissance and also firing weapons from the sky. For two years now, the government refuses to notice the efforts of enthuasiasts and volunteers. When it does notice, then it immediate tries to coopt and formalize these elements, it bureacratizes them, forces them into the usual mold of filching the state budget. Unmanned aviation long ago became a private club. Membership is closed to those who are not close to the in-crowd, and who do not wish to pay for an entry ticket.”
Still, Kasyanov is under no illusion that hobbyist technology can compete in the modern world: “It is no secret that many volunteers and entire volunteer organizations have long ago been converted into commercial firms which successfully combine volunteerism with business…. (….) It is evident that volunteerism per se as the foundation for producing high-tech products — is a dead end. Because complicated things require a lot of time and means to produce. And to produce them on an assembly-line basis using volunteers who work for free and sacrifice their time — is not realistic.”
In the final two paragraphs of his essay, Volchenko agrees with Kasyanov’s conclusions and adds this point: The upsurge in military-technical creativity seen in the post-Maidan Ukraine has produced several interesting products, but in the final analysis these amateur efforts cannot establish an alternative to a normal system of government procurement and a military-industrial complex.
Also taking into account Ukraine’s de-volution as a state, and the rapidly tanking levels of math and science education of the population, there may not even be any future wave of scientific and technological creativity. Volchenko believes that the Maidan government itself is determined to lower the educational level of the population, as it prepares to convert the Ukraine from an industrial to an agrarian economy.