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Ukraine rapidly expanding its 'Army of Drones' for front line


Ukraine says it is rapidly increasing its production of drones as demand grows on the front line.

The government has relaxed import laws and scrapped taxes for drone parts and equipment.

The expansion is being funded by a successful fundraising campaign called the Army of Drones.

More than $108m (£87m) has been raised with the help of celebrity supporters like Star Wars' Mark Hamill.

As well as buying and building drones for the war, the money is being spent on training new pilots for the front line.

The BBC was invited to a training session for Ukraine's latest group of drone pilots in a secret location on the outskirts of Kyiv.

A dozen teams of pilot pairs flew small drones across a field, searching for markers resembling military targets.

Instructor Slava watched their technique and commented on how to better remain hidden in their makeshift dens in the woods.

"Drones are our eyes, we can see the occupier very well from the top so we can adjust artillery and find and neutralise the enemy," he says.

Soldiers on both sides of the conflict are also increasingly reliant on smaller and relatively cheap drones that are traditionally used for filming.

The most common drone seen on the front line is the DJI Mavic which costs less than $2,000 (£1,615).

Last year, its Chinese manufacturer banned exports to Ukraine and Russia insisting its products are "for civilian use only".


Slava says the ban has made it harder to get hold of the drones but Ukraine has still been able to import thousands.

But he admits they need more and also need to develop new types as they are so often shot down or jammed by electronic weapons.

Organisers of the Army of Drones campaign say they have built or purchased an extra 3,300 drones. Some 400 people have even sent their own hobby drones in the mail.

The fundraising began in July last year to help bolster the country's fleet and train pilots.

The project is prominent on social media, with the actor Mark Hamill presenting promotional videos and sharing messages to his fans.

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