US Drones a Flop in Ukraine: Quickly Hacked by Russians

December 22nd, 2016 - by admin

Jason Ditz / & & Phil Stewart / Reuters – 2016-12-22 21:12:22

Ukraine’s US-Made Drones a Disappointment From the Start

WASHINGTON (Reuters: December 22, 2016): Millions of dollars’ worth of US-supplied drones that Kiev had hoped would help in its war against Russian-backed separatists have proven ineffective against jamming and hacking, Ukrainian officials say. The 72 Raven RQ-11B Analog mini-drones were so disappointing following their arrival this summer that Natan Chazin, an advisor to Ukraine’s military with deep knowledge of the country’s drone program, said if it were up to him, he would return them.

Ukraine’s US-Made Drones a Disappointment From the Start
Jason Ditz /

(December 21, 2016) — Among a series of different military equipment the Obama Administration provided to the Ukrainian military over the last year of ceasefire in the eastern civil war, the US gave the nation some 72 Raven RQ-11B micro-drones, surveillance drones worth an estimated $9 million.

Despite the US giving them the drones, and training them how to use them (which, in all fairness, mostly involves throwing the tiny “hand-launched” drones and then viewing an analogue video feed), Ukraine has a serious case of buyer’s remorse, or at least recipient’s remorse.

Ukrainian military officials say the drones have been a disappointment from the start, complaining that the eastern rebels have shown the ability to hijack the video feeds and even jam them more or less at will. Those familiar with the device say this is unsurprising, as the drones are analogue and thus don’t use any encryption to protect data.

Ultimately, Ukrainian officials say the drones took way too long to arrive, were not very useful, and they wished they could’ve returned them to the US, though naturally they can’t.

For their part, the US sought to blame Russia for their drones being lousy, insisting Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities are “sophisticated,” and presumably they have shared enough with the rebels to foil the drones.

Washington OKs Raven Drones for Ukraine
The US Administration is going to authorize the contract pertaining the delivery of the micro RQ-11B Raven UAV systems for the Ukrainians

(December 22, 2016) — According to the information released by the US Government, the California-based Aerovironment Inc. company concluded a contract, the aim of which is to acquire small RQ-11B Raven UAV systems for Ukraine.

The agreement, the value of which reaches USD 9.049 million, is being a part of the Foreign Military Sales programme. The contract is going to be realized on 11th May 2016.

RQ-11B Raven is being used by more than 30 armies all around the world, including the US Army. US Army has ca. 2000 drones of this type at its disposal. The Americans had announced the deliveries of the Raven UAV systems for the Ukrainians earlier, within the framework of military assistance programme, thus the procurement is probably going to be financed by the US government.

The RQ-11B Raven UAV weighs only 2 kilograms, it may be transported in a backpack container. The drone takes-off from the hand of the operator. Its flight-endurance reaches 80 minutes and the system may operate within the altitude range between 30 and 150 m, providing the visual transmission in real time for the operator.

The drone may also act as a flying laser target designator. RQ-11B is being controlled by a two-man crew.

A few weeks ago, identical systems were acquired by the Spanish forces.

Exclusive: US-supplied Drones Disappoint Ukraine at the Front Lines
Phil Stewart / Reuters

WASHINGTON (December 22, 2016) — Millions of dollars’ worth of US-supplied drones that Kiev had hoped would help in its war against Russian-backed separatists have proven ineffective against jamming and hacking, Ukrainian officials say.

The 72 Raven RQ-11B Analog mini-drones were so disappointing following their arrival this summer that Natan Chazin, an advisor to Ukraine’s military with deep knowledge of the country’s drone program, said if it were up to him, he would return them.

“From the beginning, it was the wrong decision to use these drones in our (conflict),” Chazin, an advisor to the chief of the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces, told Reuters.

The hand-launched Ravens were one of the recent highlights of US security assistance to Ukraine, aiming to give Kiev’s military portable, light-weight, unarmed surveillance drones that were small enough to be used widely in the field. They are made by AeroVironment.

But they appear to have fallen short in a battle against the separatists, who benefit from far more sophisticated military technology than insurgencies the West has contended with in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria.

Whether President-elect Donald Trump’s administration might seek to provide Kiev anything more robust, however, is unclear, given his stated desire to improve ties with Russia and prioritize the fight against Islamic militants. US restrictions on technology exports could also limit new aid.

The Air Force command of Ukraine’s armed forces acknowledged to Reuters that the Ravens supplied by the United States had a fundamental drawback: Russia and the separatist forces it supports can intercept and jam their video feeds and data.

“The complex is analog, therefore command channels and data are not protected from interception and suppression by modern means of electronic warfare,” it said.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities were far more sophisticated than thought when the conflict began and that both the US and Ukrainian militaries were adapting.

Asked about Ukraine’s reaction to the Ravens, one official said it took a considerable amount of time for the drones to reach Ukraine and that by then “they were much less effective than they would have liked, than we would have liked.”

AeroVironment referred questions from Reuters about the Raven contract to the US Army.

The US Army told Reuters it still uses Ravens but has upgraded to digital versions.

Some 38 Ukrainian students were trained at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama on how to operate the drones between March and July this year, a US Army spokesman said.

Ukraine said it distributed the Ravens across the services and gave one batch to the Zhytomry Military Institute for training purposes.

There were mixed accounts on how much the Ravens were being used in Ukraine, which saw Crimea annexed by Russia in 2014 and which has been fighting Russian-backed separatist forces in the east. Nearly 10,000 people have died in the conflict.

The Air Force command of Ukraine’s armed forces said they were being used in the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” zone, including in combat situations.

One Ukrainian official, however, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said that although drones were being used in the zone, they were not employed on the front lines.

Chazin said they were largely in storage and called them a vulnerability, allowing the enemy to see Ukrainian military positions and, when it wanted, easily take them down. They had short battery life and were unable to reliably fulfill the key mission of gaining intelligence on artillery positions, he said.

“(Analog) basically puts you back in the stone age of the UAVs,” said James Lewis, director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, using an acronym for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones.

“I’m not being critical of the Raven. I love the Raven … But it’s a cheap, disposable UAV. And for more intense conflict, that may not cut the ice anymore.”

The drones, along with other US-supplied items like radar, first-aid kits, night vision and communications gear, fit into President Barack Obama’s strategy of providing non-lethal military assistance while focusing on sanctions and diplomacy to end the war.

Within that context, the miniature drones, even though small, were a noteworthy element of the more than $600 million in training and equipment that the United States has provided Ukraine so far. Ukraine pegged the Raven program’s value at over $12 million.

How Trump might alter US support remains unclear, particularly given cabinet picks that include retired Marine General James Mattis, who has been vocal about his concerns about Russia and was nominated to become US defense secretary.

Some of the most prominent Republican lawmakers in Congress have called for Ukraine to receive lethal arms.

“If anything, it creates a new opportunity,” said Luke Coffey at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think-tank.

Ukrainian officials have sought to put a brave face on Trump’s election, downplaying comments on the campaign trail that included appearing to recognize Crimea as part of Russia and contemplating an end to US sanctions on Russia.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko is expected to visit Washington next year, and US assistance is sure to be high on his agenda.

Topping Ukraine’s wish list are Javelin anti-tank missiles made by made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. The top US military officer in Europe, General Curtis Scaparrotti, told a Senate hearing this year “there’s a requirement for an anti-tank weapon, like Javelin.”

One of the US officials cautioned about limitations on America’s ability to export drones that can evade Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities.

That could leave Ukraine’s military to continue building drones from commercially available technology. It now assembles them from components supplied by firms in countries such as Australia, China and the Czech Republic for only $20,000 to $25,000 apiece, Chazin said, and they are more advanced than the more pricey Ravens, which are often funded from private donations.

(Additional reporting by Catherine Koppel in New York.)

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