Through Ukraine, Tech Start-Ups Make Their Move Into the U.S. Defense Industry

The United States government has had advanced satellites in space for years, with capabilities that still exceed what the commercial companies can offer. But starting about five years ago, private-sector players like Capella started to launch smaller, cheaper and faster-to-build units, offering more frequent coverage of the world than even the U.S. government can provide.

“This is really the first major war in which commercially available satellite imagery may play a significant role in providing open source information about troop movements, military buildups in neighboring countries, flows of refugees and more,” Ukraine’s minister for innovation, Mykhailo Fedorov, wrote in March 2022 at the outset of the war, accurately predicting the vital role this commercial data has since played.

Closer to the ground, small drones manufactured by a growing list of United States-based companies — including AeroVironment, Skydio, Shield AI, Teal Drones, BRINC and Anduril Industries — are helping provide Ukraine so-called persistent surveillance needed to identify and track targets and refugee movement, as well as other threats, according to information provided by the companies, the Pentagon or the Ukrainian government.

The U.S. government has had its own much larger attack drones used widely in Iraq and Afghanistan, with names like Predator and Reaper, both of which are made by California-based General Atomics, costing as much as $57 million apiece. But the new-generation drones are much smaller, cheaper and easier to build, and could give the military new battlefield options.

Wahid Nawabi, the chief executive at California-based AeroVironment, which makes the Switchblade 300 and 600 attack drones, both of which have been used in Ukraine, said the military is moving toward using swarms of small drones in attacks, with perhaps 50 or even several hundred of them descending on targets at the same time. The company has sold about 5,000 of these attack drones to the Pentagon over the last decade — but it is awaiting much larger orders, as Mr. Nawabi said he could manufacture as many as 16,000 a year.


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


one × two =