Military reconnaissance: German drones in use in Ukraine

The German Ministry of Defence is supplying a total of 43 unarmed aerial drones to its partner in Ukraine, as well as various technology to defend against such systems. In addition, there is talk of up to 20 naval drones.

The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine has received a first delivery of reconnaissance drones from Germany. They come from the company Quantum Systems, which has its headquarters in Gilching near Munich. According to a press release, some of the drones are already in use. The handover of further aircraft is said to be „in preparation and processing stage“.

Unmanned systems are playing an increasingly important role in the Ukraine war. Armed drones from Turkey have caused major losses for the Russian military; due to the lack of its own assets, the government in Moscow is now relying on imports from Iran. Both sides also use so-called kamikaze drones, which circle above the enemy with a warhead and swoop down on the target when the opportunity is right.

66 Russian reconnaissance drones crashed

However, drones are also important for reconnaissance, to spy on enemy positions or to adjust the fire of their own artillery. Russia mainly flies drones of the type Orlan-10 for this purpose. According to a list published by the military blog Oryx, at least 66 of these units are said to have crashed after enemy fire, electronic malfunctions or operating errors.

With extremely quiet electric motors, the Vector is supposed to ensure that its approach is as unnoticeable as possible. After an attack by other own entities, the Vector drones can also be used for „damage documentation“, according to the manufacturer. Finally, the aircraft could also detect and document war crimes from the air.

„Much faster procedure“ for export licence

The drones are being financed with funds from the German „Enhancement Initiative“. The deal is said to have come about through the mediation of the Ukrainian consul in Munich. The Federal Office of Economics and Export Control, which otherwise takes several months for export licences from the company, had acted in a „much faster procedure“ in the case of Ukraine.

The deliveries are fixed-wing drones with a wingspan of 2.80 metres, which Quantum Systems markets under the name Vector. Their unit price is said to be €180,000. With three swivelling propellers, the drone can take off and land vertically and is thus independent of tarmacs. As far as is known, its endurance is around two hours, and its top speed is around 70 km/h.

As a „2in1 system“, the drone can be converted into a pure rotorcraft without tools. Without its wings, weight, wingspan and flight time are significantly reduced, but the payload remains the same. The helicopter drone created in this way is called Scorpio by the manufacturer.

„Combat package“ for greater range

The maximum take-off weight of the Vector is over seven kilograms, of which only 600 grams are allotted to the payload. For this purpose, the manufacturer offers an observation capsule with various cameras and sensors. A laser illuminator can be used to mark targets for attacks by artillery or other aircraft.

Via an encrypted mesh IP connection, image and video data are transmitted to operators up to 15 kilometres away. In a „combat package“, Quantum Systems offers a separate, stationary modem. This increases the range to up to 25 kilometres. Additionally available masts can further extend this distance.

No details on number of drones and delivery

Quantum Systems wants to keep the timing of the upcoming deliveries secret until the operators have been trained in the drones. However, the manufacturer says it estimates a maximum of four days for this.

For security reasons, the company also does not want to give any further details on their number. In April, after the planned military aid became known, it was said that Quantum Systems would sell „two handfuls“ of the systems to Ukraine.

A total of 43 reconnaissance drones are to be delivered from Germany, the Ministry of Defence wrote last week in a statement on the „upgrading initiative“. Whether these will be exclusively Vector drones, however, remains open. The Bundeswehr itself has about 800 reconnaissance drones of various sizes.

„Enhancement initiative“ increased to €2 billion

Which departments will be equipped with the drones is also unclear. Quantum System speaks of „Ukrainian forces and drone pilots“. Apparently, the company is also responsible for the logistics in Ukraine, which will be „clarified in close consultation between the partners involved“.

Originally, the states of Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia, Mali and Nigeria were to benefit militarily from the „Enhancement Initiative“. After the outbreak of the war, Ukraine was included in the programme. For this purpose, the German government has increased the funds of this support, described as „help for self-help“, to a total of €2 billion for the financial year 2022.

Upcoming delivery of naval surface drones

The list of „enhancements“ for Ukraine includes other unmanned systems. The Ministry of Defence lists ten „autonomous naval surface drones“, the number of which can optionally be doubled.

The ministry does not specify which devices are involved. The navy, for example, uses sealift drones as minesweepers. They simulate sound and magnetic field signatures of large ships and thus detonate the mines.

Ukraine is also receiving several dozen devices for defence against unmanned aerial vehicles. In the ministry’s list, these are called „drone defence sensors and jammers“, „drone defence devices“, „drone defence systems“ or „anti-drone guns“.

Image: The Vector/ Scorpio drone (Quantum Systems).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.

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