Today I had the most extraordinary experience. Having lugged a rucksack full of plastic cement or some such thing over the border from Poland to Ukraine a few days ago, I discovered this afternoon what it was used for as I proceeded to my point of delivery, a secret location but one of many I discovered across Ukraine. It was a warehouse full of 3D printers that are manufacturing pieces of military hardware, including parts of drones. Now these drones are of two kinds, and they are made of carbon fibre but increasingly it is hoped that they can be made of plastic. The larger drones carry anti-personnel bombs with small fins on them to provide aerodynamic qualities and they fly over enemy lines to Russian positions on the front line and then they release their bombs on Russian trenches or whatever the target may be, and then they fly back again for reuse. The larger drones, also made with 3D printers, are “kamikaze” drones with larger warheads designed for use against Russian armour as large and well-defended as tanks. These are single-use drones and they are just flown straight into the tank or the armoured personnel carrier and they blow a hole in the side of it and disable the armour in question.
So I am told that there are well over 1,500 of these 3D printers churning out pieces of military hardware all over Ukraine, and that whenever the Ukrainian Armed Forces want more drones or plastic capsules also made by these 3D printers for warheads, they put an order into some sort of central database that everyone in Ukraine with 3D printers can access and those with spare capacity can manufacture the pieces that the military requires and then they are shipped off around Ukraine to the relevant front line positions. I watched in awe as all these 3D printers were busily manufacturing drone bases and drone parts and bomb casings. I’d never seen a 3D printer before and basically the way they work is that they take lone cables of plastic wire with a low melting point and they squeeze it through a tiny nozzle on a hinged frame that can go back and forth in a mechanical way following intricate designs prepared on a laptop with a graphics card because the software that runs these printers is quite sophisticated. Tight screw fittings and all sorts of other traditionally difficult pieces of manufacturing process on a small scale suddenly become very easy and these machines buzz away, day and night, making everything that’s needed to drop ordnance on Russian personnel positions on the front line or to blow up Russian armoured vehicles.
Now the point about all this is of course a matter of economics. These 3D printers I am told cost about 700 Euros each so they are not expensive. They quantity of electricity they absorb is nominal. They are fairly slow so you keep them buzzing away for 16 to 18 hours a day. The costs of the drones they manufacture may work out at between 250 and 500 Euros. This is a financial war of attrition that we are fighting, so the fact that these drones are so cheap is a major advantage in favour of Ukraine. By contrast Iranian-made Shaheed drones cost about US$20,000 each; so if Ukraine can sustain the manufacture of these cheap drones at 500 Euros a piece; and in particular if the technology can be mastered to use plastic rather than carbon fibre (significantly cheaper) to manufacture these drones, then a major financial advantage can be obtained over the Russians.
What is going on on the front line is that it is a race for each side to kill or maim as many of the other side’s troops dug into the trenches as possible, and the Russians have a constant production line of shells and artillery and drones but they are all vastly more expensive than these cheap drones made from 3D printers. The fact that the Russians are currently outgunning our side might be reversed if we can start producing these drones in larger quantities. To repeat: to see a dozen or so drones all being made simultaneously in a small warehouse full of 3D printers is an engaging and mesmerising experience. It shows you that in some ways modern technology is very relevant to contemporary warfare because it makes things like this much cheaper. And if we have the 3D technology in sufficient quantities and our opponents don’t, then we can out-gun them for the same amount of money and that is how we win the war in Ukraine.
The person to whom I undertook this delivery is looking to raise US$20,000 to create another huge warehouse full of 3D printers so as to enhance manufacturing capacity exponentially. He struck me as extremely knowledgable and well-intentioned and he is a retiree with a gift for inventing things, a skilled artisan with all sorts of abilities I don’t have and I immediately got the impression that he is a trustworthy efficient and reliable person. So if you want to give some money to a good cause, and you don’t mind donating towards lethal assistance for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, then consider this as a donation opportunity. Normally the Ukraine Development Trust, of which I am the Executive Chair, confines its support to non-lethal assistance but I am going to check the law and then the Trustees will amend the terms of the trust deed if we think we can accept donations to this cause lawfully which I think we can but I just need to check everything. By now you know the website for donations which is www.development-foundation.org and I think this is a really good cause which Is why I decided to write about it today.
Also the same brilliant inventor has created a tourniquet that costs only a few US dollars and is just as effective as the conventional tourniquets to save lives on the front line that typically cost US$40. His new invention needs to be tried and tested before being rolled out but if we can achieve these savings efficiencies then it’s a great thing and these are the ways we win the war in Ukraine: by using innovation and invention to be more effective than the lumbering Russians, hampered as they are by their command economy mentality.