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Punching Above Your Weight With the Use of Modern Technology

"The article from Vegvisir's Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, Raido Saremat, discusses the use of modern technology in warfare, particularly in the context of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. It highlights the integration of both old and new technologies on the battlefield and how this combination is used to enhance combat effectiveness and decision-making."

Introduction to Modern Battlefield Technologies

On the modern battlefield, systems are increasingly connected, and the overflow of information begins to reduce combat effectiveness and decision-making if not effectively handled. We have seen from the ongoing war in Ukraine that on one hand, technology is everywhere, and on the other hand, no matter how outdated the equipment, given enough quantity, it still has an impact on the battlefield. Russians are using tanks from the 50s[1], and there have been tweets about Russians using artillery shells manufactured in 1939[2,3]. On the same battlefield, we see an outburst in the use of unmanned assets. There have been reports that Ukrainian forces deploy 10,000 drones (UAVs) per month[4]. The UAVs are used not only for reconnaissance missions but also to drop hand grenades or various munitions on enemy positions. Additionally, there have been reports of unmanned underwater or surface vessels mainly used as guided torpedoes to attack the Russian fleet[5]. The juxtaposition of 80-year-old and the most modern tech side by side on the battlefield is really interesting to note. This shows that there is no single solution that will solve all problems. However, what Ukraine has gained from this agile and tech-savvy approach to using technology on the battlefield is an advantage, or at least the ability to even the odds while having to punch above their weight in terms of the sheer numbers of equipment or manpower available.

The Role of "Kropyva" in Combat

Since the first war in Ukraine in 2014, the Ukrainians have started to use their IT skills to develop software and hardware for combat use. One of the first solutions that was widely used is called 'Kropyva.' It is an intelligence mapping software developed for planning, calculations, and orientation. It has also been called 'the Uber of artillery' because that was the first application for the platform. Today, it is widely used with simple Android tablets for various functions. [6]

“Kropyva” system ensures:

One of terminals of the Ukrainian Kropyva Automatic Tactical Management System (ATMS)[7].

Similar to 'Kropyva,' there is also a situational awareness tool developed by the Ukrainians called Delta[8]. Delta is a situational awareness and battlefield management system. It integrates information from a broad network of participants, including troops, civilian officials, and vetted bystanders, as well as a wide range of streams including sensors, intelligence sources, surveillance satellites, and drones, especially geolocated data, which it maps in real time, along with pictures of enemy assets.

"Delta": A Situational Awareness Tool

Delta, in its prototype phase, was first "pressed to its limits" during the Ukrainian counteroffensive to the Russian Kyiv convoy. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry credits Delta for helping identify 1500 confirmed, Russian targets daily during this time period[9]. The Russian Kyiv convoy was a large column of Russian military vehicles stretching some 64 kilometers (40 mi) in Kyiv Oblast from Prybirsk to Hostomel via Ivankiv involved in the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine[10]. The convoy was first discovered by the Maxar Technologies[11].

Satellite image of the russian “Kiev convoy”  ©2022 Maxar Technologies

Tactical Advantages of Modern Technology

A Ukrainian source describes the advantages of such systems in actual field use. "A group of Russian soldiers in their BMP-3 IFVs were quite a problem for the Ukrainian military, as it was almost impossible to destroy the vehicles with direct aim: the Russians hit the Ukrainian troops from prepared positions and were well camouflaged. The occupiers managed to destroy several tanks and other Ukrainian armored vehicles – they practically blocked the advance of our units,' said the platoon commander of a tank brigade. One day, the UAV operator managed to locate all three positions from which the Russian BMPs were firing. The data received from the drone was quickly processed, and the targets’ coordinates were transmitted to the tankers via “Kropyva.” The first Russian BMP-3 was destroyed with the first shot.[12]"

By examining this simple example, it can be seen that even small advances in technology have the potential to overmatch firepower, situational awareness, and/or target acquisition, thereby speeding up the OODA loop cycle and making units much more effective. Normally, a 3:1 advantage would be needed for any assault on the aforementioned BMPs, meaning a company-sized unit consisting of 9-12 armored platforms and approximately 100 men. That's the minimum; considering the dug-in positions, a 5:1 or even 9:1 ratio might be needed. With the help of technology, the ratio remained at 1:1, and the job was still accomplished. This is even more important considering that the Russian and Ukrainian sides both use very similar equipment. Now, of course, more and more Western tech is available to Ukraine, but for almost a year, the Russians and Ukrainians were using almost the same equipment[13]. This could lead to blue-on-blue incidents. Different situational awareness tools are designed to help prevent the tragedy of fratricide.

At least some of the autocannon- and missile-armed M-2 Bradley fighting vehicles that the United States is donating to Ukraine are the third-most-capable version of this classic vehicle. Most importantly, the three-person crew of an ODS SA Bradley has, as its name implies, superior situational awareness. This comes courtesy of the driver’s new thermal sight, as well as a digital map system that connects, via encrypted radio, all nearby M-2s and other vehicles so they can share their own positions—and the locations of enemy forces.[14]

It’s a conceptually simple but technologically complex system that helps to mitigate an age-old problem in combat: knowing where everyone is. Given a choice, many soldiers would prefer better situational awareness over any other battlefield advantage. After all, it doesn’t matter how heavily armed and armored a battalion is if it has no idea where the enemy is—but the enemy knows where it is.

The Defense of Chernihiv

Another example from the early days of the war comes from the Ukrainian 1st Tank Brigade’s six-week defense of the city of Chernihiv, near the border with Belarus. The 1st Tank Brigade, with its 2,000 troopers and roughly 100 T-64B and T-64BM tanks, faced the Russian 41st Combined Arms Army[15]. On paper, the 41st CAA, with its 20,000 troops and hundreds of T-72 tanks, would seem to overmatch the Ukrainian forces without any issues due to having more tanks and troops. Also, the variant of the tank, to a person only looking at the numbers and not the modifications, would appear to be outmatched by the Russians.

Modernized T-64s are equipped with digital radios, new internal communication and navigation systems, sighting systems with thermal imaging cameras, modified dynamic protection, and other necessary options. The tank unit was so effective that the Russians had to change plans and bypass the city of Chernihiv, allowing the tank unit to hold positions and win the battle. The modifications enabled them to see and engage targets from further away and also to process information more quickly, thus accelerating their OODA loop cycle.

The above mentioned examples show that there is need for both, new and high-tech and to modernize old or current technology. The progress has to be fast and what works on the field must be scaled. Modern situational awareness tools offer the needed solutions for better and more effective situational understanding. Systems like Vegvisir enable to tie together the different modern tech, may it be the Delta, “Kropyva” or an digitalisation of the combat vehicle.

Vegvisir Driver View Illustration.

Vegvisir: Integrating Modern Technology

The Mixed Reality Based Situational Awareness System, Vegvisir, for example, enables users to effectively consume all that digital data. Instead of having a different screen or monitor for each single application, Vegvisir can overlay and display all the data in one solution. This is made possible through the use of virtual reality. The Vegvisir system creates a virtual space that can be altered according to any user's need or preferred layout. As more advancements in technology become available, it is increasingly important that they can be implemented, and that is one of the advantages of the Vegvisir solution. The Vegvisir system might be used with a simple EO/IR or thermal camera or sensor system for driver vision enhancement. However, Vegvisir can also scale in complexity once other digital technologies become available or are added. It can serve as the digital hub for humans to consume all the information. One could equip all the positions in a modern main battle tank or infantry fighting vehicle with the Vegvisir system. That would create a more effective team collaboration space in the virtual world. The multi-user approach is very intuitive, and this reduces the chance of error while marking targets or distributing information.

This technology helps to save lives and gives a chance to punch above one's weight. Disruptive battlefield technology will not replace traditional methods of warfare in all situations and always. However, it will certainly even the odds when facing an overwhelming enemy. Therefore, it can be said that technology is here to stay on the battlefield. But in saying so, keep in mind that technology, without the will to fight, a mindset for victory, and an agile approach to implementing new possibilities, is equally important. Without humans, the hardware by itself will not win a war. But certainly, proper hardware and technology in the hands of people with the right mindset will help the David defeat the Goliath.


[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2023/04/14/russia-sent-70-year-old-t-55-tanks-to-ukraine-without-even-upgrading-them/

[2] https://twitter.com/igorsushko/status/1674484241097433088

[3] https://news.yahoo.com/weapons-1939-spotted-mariupol-mayor-133500397.html

[4] https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/special-resources/meatgrinder-russian-tactics-second-year-its-invasion-ukraine

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2022/11/20/the-ukrainian-navy-has-no-big-warships-its-winning-the-naval-war-anyway-with-drones/

[6] https://logika.ua/en/automation-systems/

[7] https://medium.com/@x_TomCooper_x/kropyva-ukrainian-artillery-application-e5c6161b6c0a

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta_(situational_awareness_system)

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/15/world/europe/ukraine-weapons.html

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Kyiv_convoy

[11] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-02/a-massive-russian-convoy-is-approaching-kyiv-heres-what-we-know/100874820

[12] https://en.defence-ua.com/news/how_the_kropyva_combat_control_system_helps_in_the_most_difficult_situations_fortified_positions_couldnt_save_russian_army-3646.html

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Russo-Ukrainian_War_military_equipment

[14] https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2023/01/31/ukraines-new-m-2-fighting-vehicles-know-a-high-tech-trick-each-can-see-what-the-others-see/?sh=300b075c16a6

[15] https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2022/12/25/how-ukraines-1st-tank-brigade-fought-a-russian-force-ten-times-its-size-and-won/?sh=7d854a566c59