First-person information. At least that’s how the interview with several Ukrainian entrepreneurs started to produce FPV drones needed for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
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Maksim Sheremet, a Ukrainian and founder of DroneSpace makes a rather interesting assessment of the market at the moment, mainly concerning Ukraine and Russia. In his words, “Ukrainian companies produce approximately 50,000 FPV drones every month, Russian companies six times more.” I.e. this means that, according to the Ukrainian estimate, every month Russian companies produce 300,000 drones.
Can this assessment be accepted as credible? Let us recall that Russian sources claim that there is a project in Russia financed by the state in which 20 Russian companies are working, for now. According to Russian sources, they are allegedly producing 1,000 drones, i.e. 300,000 per month. This is one of the rare cases in the propaganda war between Ukraine and Russia when the data matches.
Shortage of personnel
The war has inevitably brought about a scarcity of trained personnel. Before February 24, 2024, the potential impact of FPV drones on combat had been underestimated. Ukraine is currently struggling with a significant personnel shortage. According to local entrepreneurs, there is a pressing need for hundreds of skilled engineers. However, due to the lack of experts, neophytes with fundamental electronics knowledge are being hired and put through training, a process that could take a hefty six months.
Vadim Yunik, who serves as the president of the Association of Drone Manufacturers Technological Forces of Ukraine and chairman of the supervisory board of the defense technical firm FRDM, suggests that Ukraine requires at least 2,000 engineers to meet the production demand of FPV drones in the country. Yunik specifically accentuates the shortfall of “2,000” engineers.
Ukrainian manufacturers are not only in short supply of general engineers but also experts in specialized domains. Yunik points out that there is a particular scarcity of engineers skilled in avionics, EW, computer vision, and digital signal processing. Furthermore, professionals who specialize in developing embedded software and mathematical modeling are also in high demand, he adds.
Is salary an issue?
Figuring out whether salary is a significant factor in the recruitment process for FPV drone manufacturing in Ukraine can be a complex process. As reported by Take-Profit.org, the average monthly income across various professions in Ukraine, as of January 2023, stood at a low of $399/month.
However, to clarify matters, we must delve into the specifics of the FPV drone industry. Based on insider information provided by the Ukrainian company FRDM Unique, assembly engineers in the firm draw a salary of 30,000 Ukrainian hryvnia, which approximates $825. Sheremet, another industry expert, suggests that the general market rate is somewhere around 50,000 Ukrainian hryvnias, or roughly $1,375.
Moving on, Alexander Yakovenko, the brains behind the Khvylia’91 fund, points out that an expert capable of designing an aircraft or a helicopter on his own can expect to pocket anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 per project. This lucrative earning potential also allows them the freedom to work with multiple manufacturers simultaneously. From Yakovenko’s calculations, the earnings of EB specialists could escalate to an impressive range of $5,000–$10,000.
The key is in short-term courses
Ukrainian universities are beginning to offer programs related to radio communication and drone modeling. However, these program offerings are still in their infancy, having been initiated only after the start of the war. The first batch of bachelors in these new majors isn’t expected until 2026.
According to several experts, quick, targeted training might be the best approach for the current wartime circumstances. Petro Chernyshov, an adviser on corporate governance in universities and development at the Kyiv Aviation Institute, suggests beginning with brief courses on drone construction, followed by developing a comprehensive curriculum.
To implement practical training, the university is in talks with drone manufacturers about conducting on-site training for both enrolled students and the general public. Chernyshov indicates that discussions with the first drone manufacturer, whose identity remains undisclosed, could take place as early as December. By summer, talks with multiple manufacturers are expected.
Chernyshov, however, highlights, that education, particularly at a higher level, isn’t a quick process but rather requires time and commitment to produce results.
For DroneSpace’s Sheremet, possessing a basic understanding of electrical engineering and being adept with a soldering iron are important prerequisites for potential specialists. Beginners start with the assembly of simple FPV drones, gradually progressing to the design of larger attack drones. It typically takes two to three months to master the basic level and around six months for advanced skills.
“It’s remarkable how quickly people can learn. Those who’ve never even held a soldering iron before can achieve a high proficiency score within three weeks,” says Yakovenko. Nevertheless, he sees the need for a structured educational model for consistent and effective learning.
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