A wide range of advanced warfare technologies are used in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On February 21, 2022, Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, declared the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. Arousing international outcry, this ignited the ultimate invasion of Russia on Ukraine three days later. While Ukrainians are still defying Putin’s covetous ambitions, new technologies have been floating on the surface to take advantage of each other. Both sides are deploying various technologies, such as satellites, drones and even deepfake technology, during the conflict.
What is modern warfare?
In 2012, the International Committee of the Red Cross published International Review of the Red Cross, which touches upon the definition of modern warfare. Differing from the major focus on infantry rifles in WWII, the concept of the war now revolves around complex technologies (e.g. drones) instead of conscription, territorial occupations and vast land operations.
Technology has reshaped how soldiers prepare for battles, as they could simultaneously receive real-time information on what’s on the ground or in the air, where their enemies are and how they move just by a headset—yes, just by a headset. Making full use of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning algorithms, biometric statistics and analysis (of the biological features of the human body) can even be generated to help military forces improve their combat efficiencies on battlefields.
Let’s look into what military tech both Russian and Ukrainian military forces have been using during the times of modern warfare.
What technologies are being used in the Ukraine war?
Clearview AI is a facial recognition platform which has a database of over ten billion photos, with two billion of them from the Russian social service VKontakte. This technology can be used in different fields, such as banking, payments, transportation, security, visitor management and authentication. It functions by gathering data automatically through a process named online scraping.
Despite being involved in lawsuits and accused of violating privacy rights, Clearview AI is now being deployed by Ukraine. The country was given free access to Clearview AI’s search engines and is now using them to identify both living and dead bodies. In the meantime, Clearview AI also offered to help Ukraine uncover infiltrators, including Russian military personnel, and reunite refugees who were separated from their families with their loved ones.
KUB-BLA AI Kamikaze Drone
KUB-BLA is a type of drone known as a “loitering munition” sold by ZALA Aero, a Russian unmanned aerial vehicle company that claims to feature “intelligent detection and recognition of objects by class and type in real-time”. With no man needed to control the drone, it could destroy targets by setting target coordinates manually.
With a wingspan of 1.2 meters, it is highly accurate and could fly at a speed of 80 miles per hour (ca. 129 km/h) for 30 minutes. It can also detonate explosives of up to three kilograms. On April 27, one of these drones was shot down by the Ukrainian armies in Luhansk.
Since a KUB-BLA drone only has a maximum range of 24 miles (ca. 40 km), it was believed that Russian military forces were once close enough to Kyiv to potentially assassinate Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s President. Compared with the two Battle of Kievs (1941 and 1943) in WW2, war has become more complicated with these drones, as both armies have been upgrading themselves instead of executing offensive operations with the assistance of infantry, tanks and artillery only.
Elon Musk’s Starlink
Cyberwar has been one of the key components in the war for military forces to be competent on battlefields. With its definition as “all operations taking place on the internet”, cyberwar comprises network disruptions and website jamming. Starlink, one of the products under Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is a satellite service that offers internet from anywhere on the planet.
Remaining in a relatively low orbit of around 350 miles (ca. 563 km) from Earth, it provided a latency of between 25 ms and 35 ms. The download speed is overwhelming, with about one gigabyte per second (faster than that of 4G and 5G).
With the commencement of the war in Ukraine, Elon Musk activated Starlink service for the Ukraine people. This benefited the Ukrainians by helping 590 of their hospitals and clinics to stay connected during the battles. With more than 10,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine, soldiers in Ukraine believed that Starlink has given Ukraine an edge in the war.
This is because Russia has blown up their communicative services, and they had no choice but to rely on Starlink to deploy cable connections between battlegrounds and people struggling in Mariupol. At the same time, Starlink even helped depressurize the overloaded internet infrastructure in Ukraine by maintaining internet connections even under airstrikes and land operations. For this, Ukrainians can thank Starlink’s help.
Deepfake technology has been widely used to disseminate misinformation during the war, as we’ve seen from Russia’s cyber invasion on social platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
Deepfake technology is a type of AI used to create images and audiovisual materials that are convincing. There have been concerns regarding the potential to spread lies and chaos by deepfakes as the images become more authentic. This was verified when hackers publicized a fake and heavily manipulated deepfake video of Zelenskyy on social media and news websites.
The deepfake video was published to demotivate Ukrainian soldiers and peasants to lay their weapons down and return to their families. However, the video was debunked and removed, as viewers pointed out that Zelenskyy’s accent was different and that his head and voice did not match his real ones.
With inspiration from the fake Zelenskyy, deepfake has become pervasive in the battlefields of the cyber world, as Deepfake Putin was made in response to Russia’s Deepfake Zelenskyy.
On the day Russia began its “special military operation”, Ukraine’s central bank suspended most currency trading and froze the exchange rate of the hryvnia, Ukraine’s official currency, as part of its martial law measures. As digital money transfers were also banned, Ukrainians flocked to withdraw cash under the centralized monetary platform, which in turn pushes them to turn to crypto.
In addition, the Ukrainian government has legalized the crypto sector, allowing foreign channels to donate cryptocurrency to Ukraine. As of March 23, more than US$60 million worth of digital coins have been donated from the foreign crypto community to Ukraine’s official wallets, while Ukraine had spent US$34 million of the crypto funds and converted 80% to traditional currency in March.
Cryptocurrency has helped Ukraine significantly by covering expenditures on some immediate necessities, including medicine, ballistic plates for bulletproof vests, walkie-talkies, thermal imagers, helmets and food for their soldiers.
With the advancing technologies, the ability to disseminate (mis)information at light speed online and deployment of intelligent, electronic warfare tech has, without doubt, added to the complexity of war in modern times.
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