In my recent trip to Ukraine I was astonished to see that the primary driver of new innovations in the conflict was entrepreneurs and small business owners. As an entrepreneur, I know pivoting and creative problem solving is the only way to survive. So of course that mindset is helping the Ukrainians combat the Russians.
I witnessed former start-up CEOs-turned-drone-creators 3D print mechanisms designed to drop mortars onto Russian tanks using drones they learned how to build using YouTube … and I wonder if our military would allow such civilian participation if ever a war were to come to us?
All Ukrainians are fighting against the Russians, not just the military. Everyone feels compelled to help in some way. Churches have become distribution points for everything from blankets to ammunition. Taxi drivers are shuttling fighters to the front lines. And Ukrainians good at learning and problem-solving quickly — entrepreneurs for example — are developing really clever technologies using just what they can find on the internet.
Everyone has seen the effectiveness of drones in Ukraine. The cleverness is definitely driven by necessity. Modifying and testing drones can happen in a matter of hours, not weeks or months. The local countryside becomes the test range for new concepts and novel bomb-delivery without onerous red tape and bureaucratic crap, something our military has not figured out.
We should learn from Ukraine. Flying drones is increasingly difficult in the United States and nearly impossible on military ranges — the same ranges where rockets, mortars, and machine guns are fully permitted. As with every overreaction to new tech, the problem is rooted in lack of understanding. How could a 700-gram piece of slow-moving plastic with no explosive capability be more dangerous than the bullet of a sniper rifle, yet the regulatory process for the flying plastic is stifling?
Yet, in any future conflict, drones will be extremely useful as they certainly are in Ukraine. And our military will be racing to show every warfighter how to operate and modify drones. So why don’t we embrace that tech and encourage use before such a situation exists? Let’s watch and learn from the Ukrainian people and mix a little common sense into our bureaucracy, especially with new technologies.
Unfortunately, I fear we will continue to overregulate and constrain new tech until our military gets faster at understanding that the dangers are not proportional to the benefits. AI tools like ChatGPT will likely be next in this fear-driven paralysis of adoption.
Ukrainians are learning how important problem-solving with tech can be while fighting for their lives — let’s ensure we learn how to effectively use tech before it becomes a necessity to do so.