Moves are under way to create the first mass-scale UAV manufacturing operation in Russia, though details of that effort make it unlikely it will compensate for the worsening shortage of commercial drones in the country, as store-bought craft continue being snapped up and sent off to the war effort in Ukraine.
Economic and business daily Kommersant reported the development this month in the wake of an earlier article explaining why supplies of commercial drones in Russia had fallen low – driving prices up considerably – with retail UAVs being sent to troops and allied separatists in eastern Ukraine. It described the initiative to kick-start the nation’s first successful mass-production operation of smaller aerial craft as seeking to generate homegrown gear to partially make up for vanishing imports from abroad.
However, that effort is focusing on enterprise UAVs – at least initially – which have also seen their reserves decrease of late. In addition to focusing on a much smaller market, those more expensive craft won’t be of much use to private pilots simply wanting to get their hands on consumer UAVs for recreational purposes. At least their hefty price tags will discourage their procurement and repurposing as Russian war assets in Ukraine
Without getting too deep into the weeds, the move involves Russian drone docking company Hive buying the Pelican enterprise quadcopter production activities of Copter Express. As part of the acquisition, Hive has pledged to invest $1.8 million in the unit by the end of 2022. That, CEO Nikolai Ryashin told Kommersant, will finance the effort to “transform production from small-scale to mass production.”
As an indication of just how limited drone manufacturing remains in Russia, however, Ryashin described his year-end target for “mass production” of craft as 100 units per month. In fairness, various complicating regulatory factors may well make that rate of output sufficient to satisfy the nation’s enterprise operators, which have seen prices for dwindling reserves triple in recent months.
Costs for consumer drones have risen 30% as outflows of the craft into Ukraine for use by Russia’s invading troops have surged. The shortage was further aggravated with the decision by DJI in April to halt exports to both warring countries, following controversy over how its products were reportedly being used by combatants. Previously, DJI craft made up 90% of all sales in Russia.
Though neither Russia nor Ukraine are the only countries that thrust DJI to the head of domestic commercial drone sales, regulations imposed by authorities in Moscow have further confounded the creation of “a single Russian brand in terms of prevalence,” says Maxim Mysev, director of telecommunications projects at tech company Diginavis LL. Authorities have made operation of the craft anywhere but indoors increasingly difficult, undercutting the interest of investors to fund local mass manufacturing of UAVs.
Barring any surprises, then, the Hive-Copter Express also won’t step up as Russia’s first national champion of mass commercial drone manufacturing – though it may offer some relief to short-handed enterprise clients.
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