Ukraine Drone Enthusiasts Form Flying Fury Force To Thwart Russian Forces

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Drone enthusiasts in Ukraine have volunteered to use their flying skills in an attempt to combat Russians forces. This is a major shift from flying their drones as a hobby, to flying them to save potentially save lives. One retail store in the capital city of Kyiv has emptied its stock, as it has given out some 300 DJI drones for the purpose of war related missions. Others throughout Ukraine are attempting to get their hands on more drones from friends and colleagues in Poland and other places throughout Europe.

"Why are we doing this? We have no other choice. This is our land, our home," stated Denys Sushko, head of operations at Kyiv-based industrial drone technology company DroneUA. Before the war, the company sold mainly to farmers and energy companies.

People are also posting alleged Ukrainian drone footage on their social media accounts, and some of it is both shocking and impressive. One particular post was tweeted by user Jan_DE2022, and it seems to show a Russian helicopter being shot down by Ukrainian forces...

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Courtesy of Jan_DE2022

There is one particular concern for those using the DJI branded drones, however. The company provides a tool that can easily pinpoint the location of an inexperienced drone operator. This has led to the reality that the Chinese firm, or its customers, might use that data against those in Ukraine. This makes some drone operators a bit uneasy, for good reason, as DJI has declined to discuss specifics about how it has responded to the war.

Adam Lisberg, a DJI spokesperson, said wartime uses were "never anticipated' when the tech company developed AeroScope, a feature that both sides could use to monitor the other's flight paths and the communication links between a drone and the device that's controlling it. He added that some users in Ukraine have reported some technical issues, but that DJI has not disabled the tool or given preferential access. Meanwhile, DroneUA's Sushko notes, "There a number of tricks that allow you to increase the level of security when using them."

A public group on Facebook focused on drones has been lending their expertise to those in Ukraine as well. It has more than 15,000 members who have been providing tips about how to assist Ukrainian troops. The group is administered by Taras Troiak, a dealer of DJI drones who started the Kyiv retail store. The retail store is now shuttered due to the war, but Troiak is determined to continue helping his country any way he can.

"The risk to civilian drone operators inside Ukraine is still great," stated Mike Monnik, an Australian drone security expert. "Locating the operator's location could result in directed missel fire, given what we've seen in the fighting so far. It's no longer rules of engagement as we have had in previous conflicts."

DJI has some experience with its drones being implemented with weapons during wartime. In the past it has used its "geofencing" technology to block drone movements during other conflicts such as that in Syria and Iraq. There is no indication from the company if it will take that measure in Ukraine, and if it does there are said to be ways to work around it.

"We will see ad-hoc arming of these small civilian drones much the way we've seen that done in conflicts around the world from Syria to Iraq and Yemen and Afghanistan," P.W. Singer, a New America fellow who has written a book about war robots, stated in an interview with AP News. "Just like an IED or a Molotov cocktail, they won't change the tide of battle but they will definitely make it difficult for Russian soldiers."