Ukraine’s digital defenders

On New Year’s Day, Ukraine carried out a hugely successful strike on a Russian military site, and reportedly pulled it off by locating soldiers using their cell phones—a sign of Ukraine’s ongoing technological prowess in the warzone.

Driving the news: Ukraine may lack the manpower and defence budget of Russia, but it’s been able to level the battlefield thanks to a makeshift digital defence network that connects fighters, intelligence, and weapons through custom software and satellite communications. 

  • Ukraine has repurposed off-the-shelf equipment and domestic services, like Starlink satellite internet and Telegram messaging, into a full-fledged defence network.

Why it’s happening: Ukraine’s innovative approach was born out of necessity and, in part, thanks to the military’s openness to seeking solutions from those outside the military. Ukraine’s uniquely tech-literate population has contributed to tech and weapon breakthroughs. 

  • Programmers who built payroll systems for companies now do so for the military, while developers have created apps that can track Russian troop movements.

  • Meanwhile, Ukraine’s thriving hacker scene is also doing its part, with hacktivists bombarding Russian infrastructure, taking down websites, and leaking sensitive info.

Why it matters: Ukraine’s rapid innovations show the flaws of traditional Western military methods, where bureaucracy often discourages experimentation, slows the implementation of new solutions, and excludes expert opinions simply because they aren’t coming from military members. If Ukraine’s success continues, other nations may emulate its thinking.