26 March 2024

Australia joins multinational ‘drone coalition’ to supply machines to Ukraine

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Ukrainian drone with explosives

A Ukrainian commercially derived FPV drone fitted with explosives. Photo: Ukraine Defence Ministry.

One of the items to come out of last week’s AUKMIN talks between Australia’s and the UK’s defence and foreign ministers was news that Australia will join the drone coalition to supply drones to Ukraine’s defence forces.

Led by Latvia and the UK, the drone coalition was established last December to aid Ukraine in its war effort against Russia by supplying thousands of commercially derived drones that can be modified for military use, and now reportedly has eight member nations.

Since the coalition was established, the Netherlands, Sweden and now Australia have joined the group, and Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister for Digital Development, Digital Transformations, and Digitalisation Kateryna Chernohorenko has been busy lobbying up to 20 more countries to sign up.

“Technology, not people, should be fighting,” Minister Chernohorenko told media in late February.

“The drone coalition will be another step towards implementing this idea. It will save many lives.

“Strengthening and developing the production of unmanned systems will make it possible to transform the military and make the latest technologies a reality today. I would like to invite nations to develop software solutions that will create the future of this sector.

“We want more countries to join. Our objective is for at least two dozen countries to join this initiative.”

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Minister Chernohorenko said Ukraine was aiming to have one million ”first-person view” (FPV) drones – guided by remote pilots watching an image sent back from an onboard camera – by the end of 2024.

In a joint media conference last Thursday (21 March) with UK Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapps, Australian Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles announced that Australia would join the drone coalition.

“Today, we also announce that Australia will participate in the drone coalition, which is being led by both the United Kingdom and Latvia,” he said.

“This is a critical moment in the conflict in Ukraine, and we very much acknowledge the leadership of the United Kingdom in supporting Ukraine in their fight against the appalling invasion by Russia.

“This is a really important opportunity for us to continue making our contribution to the effort to have Ukraine stay the course and be able to resolve this conflict on its terms.”

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Mr Schapps said he was excited Australia would be joining the drone coalition.

“Drones are a new factor in that war that two years ago played a very small part and now are playing an increasingly significant, increasingly sophisticated part,” he said.

“Countries who invest in the drone coalition are not just doing it for Ukraine – of course, that’s the primary purpose – but also because it stands as a potential to bring huge technological improvements and advances in drone technology to our home markets as well, for defence and for civilian purposes.

“Your foresighted investment in the drone coalition will not just help Ukraine, it will help Australia as well. And we look forward, actually, to working with you on that technology, sharing the technologies between us and making us all stronger as a result.”

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