The high-spec unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are funded through a charitable initiative utilising funds donated from sales at a petrol station network in the country.
With an expected counter-offensive due this spring, they will provide increased surveillance and reconnaissance range for Kyiv’s military, providing data for firepower including the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMAR).
The eastern city of Bakhmut has become the focal point of a conflict where Ukraine’s military has been utilising Western lethal aid and improvised drone systems to exact heavy losses on Russian forces ahead of the expected push-back.
The sharks have been rapidly designed and put into production by a Ukrainian aerospace company during the full-scale invasion.
A total of 25 intelligence complexes consisting of 75 ‘birds’ overall are due to be deployed on the frontline through the initiative run by Come Back Alive, a charitable foundation which supports the armed forces.
Two UAVs are already on the battlefield, with the supporting complex including associated equipment such as command and control systems, ground vehicles and launch ramps.
The ongoing collaborative effort has so far raised 287 million hryvnias (£7.2 million) towards a target of 325 million, with the newly deployed kit being the first results of the amount raised to date.
Mykola Bielieskov, senior analyst at the foundation, told Metro.co.uk: ‘The shark intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance UAVs have critical importance because they will provide data for the most formidable rocket systems like HIMARS and M270 MLRS at a range of 75-plus kilometres.
‘As HIMARS and MLRS can target the enemy at a range of 85 kilometers we need to have the comparable intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance equipment. The UAVs are also being provided in preparation for a possible upcoming counter-offensive.
‘Private enterprise and charity are combining behind this window of opportunity so that our artillery systems can be utilised to the fullest possible extent. This project and others run by the Come Back Alive foundation are examples of how civil society is mobilising behind the military and as you can see, the work is bearing fruit.
‘All Ukrainians pay taxes which go to the Ministry of Defence’s budget but all Ukrainians realise that it is not enough. They are also ready to spend money to purchase fuel and to buy these incredible UAVs.’
The funding was raised through a partnership with the Ukrainian OKKO fuel station network whereby a hryvnia from every litre of premium Pulls petrol and diesel sold goes to the shark project.
Ukrainian firm Ukrspecsytems has entered the drones into production during the full-scale invasion, equipping the systems with encrypted communications, a 30x optical zoom camera and 150mph top speed.
The Kyiv-headquartered foundation has already provided large consignments of high-tech equipment, together with training, to troops.
Donations have included a strike drone complex, armoured vehicles, pick-up trucks and thousands of pieces of thermal imaging kit.
‘The birds were designed and produced in the space of a year, during the war, from the drawing board, to prototypes, to testing and now to the battlefield,’ Mr Bielieskov said.
‘The private enterprise drew on their previous accumulated expertise, knowledge and experience going back to 2014 when Russia began its war on Ukraine to produce the UAVs, which are incredible not only in terms of range but with their high quality cameras and ability to operate day and night and track moving targets.
‘They are state of the art in terms of what Ukrainian private enterprise can produce for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and tactical range. The project was made possible because our charity is constantly finding the best ways to raise money and use it to the greatest effect.
‘We are now entering a period of “now or never” with this upcoming half a year going to be the most critical time yet to double down.
‘There’s a window of opportunity to provide assistance to the military as Ukraine prepares for a possible counter-offensive before Russia enters another round of mobilisation. It’s not the end of the confrontation but we now have an opportunity to do things right and begin the end game of what started on February 24, 2022.’
Phillips O’Brien, professor of Strategic Studies at the University of St Andrews, described the foundation’s work as a matter of life and death.
Professor O’Brien said: ‘As Ukraine is gearing up for a counter-offensive, it needs to arm its soldiers with both the new heavy equipment being supplied by its friends, but also a large number of smaller systems, from UAVs to SUVs to body armour. Come Back Alive is an organization that has strong support across Ukraine to get such systems in the hands of their soldiers as they prepare for this vital action.
‘In the case of some Ukrainian soldiers, the support of Come Back Alive will make the difference between life and death.’
Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited troops near the frontline in the eastern Donetsk region today, presenting medals to ‘heroes’ who he said had protected ‘the sovereignty of our country’.
The Ukrainian president’s visit came as Chinese leader Xi Jinping landed back in Beijing after meeting Vladimir Putin in Moscow, a meeting said by Western analysts to mark an aligning of their interests against the US.
On the battlefield, there were signs of Ukrainian forces shoring up their ground in Donetsk, with fighting near embattled Bakhmut reported by the UK Ministry of Defence.
The update on Twitter stated: ‘Over recent days Ukrainian forces initiated a local counterattack to the west of the Donetsk Oblast town Bakhmut, which is likely to relieve pressure on the threatened H-32 supply route.
‘Fighting continues around the town centre and the Ukrainian defence remains at risk from envelopment from the north and south.
‘However, there is a realistic opportunity that the Russian assault on the town is losing the limited momentum it had obtained, partially because some Russian MoD units have been reallocated to other sectors.’