KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine has bought about 1,400 drones, mostly for reconnaissance, and plans to build combat models capable of attacking the explosive drones used by Russia in its invasion of the country, the Ukrainian government's technology minister said. .
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In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov described Russia's war in Ukraine as the first major war of the Internet age. He credits drones and satellite internet systems like Elon Musk's Starlink for changing the conflict.
Ukraine has purchased drones such as the Fly Eye, a small unmanned aerial vehicle used for reconnaissance, battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance.
"And the next stage, where we are more or less equipped with reconnaissance vehicles, are attack drones," said Fedorov. "These are explosive drones and drones that fly 3 to 10 kilometers and hit targets."
He predicted "more drone strike missions" in the future, but gave no further details. "There we are talking about drones, UAVs, UAVs that we are developing in Ukraine. Well, in any case, this will be the next step in the development of technology," he said.
Russian authorities have claimed that Ukrainian drones have carried out several attacks against their military bases in recent weeks, including on Monday when Russian forces shot down a drone near an English airbase, more than 600 kilometers (370 miles) from the border with Ukraine.
The Russian military said three soldiers were killed in the crash, but no aircraft were damaged. The base is home to the Tu-95 and Tu-160 nuclear-armed strategic bombers that have taken part in strikes against Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities have never officially acknowledged such drone strikes, but have hinted covertly at how Russia might expect retaliation for its war in Ukraine, even on Russian soil.
Fedorov said Ukraine is researching and developing drones that can fight and shoot down other drones. In addition to missile, cruise missile and artillery strikes, Russia has used Iranian-made Shahed drones to launch airstrikes on Ukrainian soil in recent weeks.
"I can say now that the drone situation will change dramatically in February or March," he said.
Fedorov sits down for an interview in his bright, modern office. Located inside a fortified service building, the room contained a vinyl record player, shelves of history books and a treadmill.
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The minister emphasized the importance of mobile communication for civil and military purposes during the war, saying that the most difficult places to maintain service are Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Odessa and the center of the country and the Kiev region in the east.
He said there are times when fewer than half of the cell phone towers in the capital Kiev are operational because Russian airstrikes have destroyed or damaged the infrastructure that feeds them.
Ukraine has about 30,000 cell towers, and the government is now trying to connect them to generators so they can continue to operate if the power grid is damaged by airstrikes.
The only option for now is satellite systems like Starlink, which Ukrainians may rely on more if the eclipse lasts longer.
"We have to understand that in this case, Starlinks and the towers connected to the generators will be the main infrastructure of the Internet," said Fedorov.
Many towns and cities experienced power outages of up to 10 hours. Fedorov said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree ordering mobile phone companies to signal without power for at least three days.
Meanwhile, with the help of European Union partners, his ministry is working to bring 10,000 more Starlink stations to Ukraine, with internet services available to the public through hundreds of "unbreakable points" that offer hot drinks, heated seats, electricity and provide accommodation. For those displaced by war or power outages.
There are already about 24,000 Starlink stations in operation in Ukraine. Musk's company, SpaceX, began offering them after Fedorov tweeted the billionaire at the start of the war.
"I got down on one knee and begged them to start work in Ukraine and I promised them that we would break the world record," he recalls.
Fedorov compared the donation of SpaceX's satellite terminal to multiple missile launch systems supplied by the US in terms of Ukraine's ability to repel Russian aggression.
He said thousands of people were saved.
In addition to civilian applications, Starlink helped front-line reconnaissance drone operators conduct artillery strikes against Russian positions and assets. Fedorov says his team currently spends 70 percent of their time on military technology. The ministry was founded only three years ago.
Supplying drones to the military is one of its main functions.
"We have to do more than what is expected of us and no progress is expected," Fedorov said, mocking Russia's drone capability. "I don't trust his technical potential at all."
Associated Press writer Jamie Kitten contributed to this report.