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Rogue Innovation

The Ukrainian government created an agency for those who have novel technologies to help the country in the war effort. The Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine and other agencies converge in BRAVE1.

“We are like one entry point and one platform to deal with Ukrainian defensive projects,” said Nataliia Kushnerska, chief operating officer of BRAVE1.

Kushnerska seeks new ideas for concrete battlefield solutions, from startups to companies running operations. The agency will fast-track approvals, testing, funding and contracting to bring innovation to the front as fast as possible.

“One thing that we have to know about Ukraine: there are a lot of products that have been used effectively at the front line, but they haven’t gone through the Ministry of Defense but directly from people because we have our families and friends on the frontline,” Kushnerska explained.

This improvisation suggests that there may be other problems with transferring military technology despite good intentions.

“The American model in Ukraine does not work. The way that we try to give technology to the Ukrainians does not work. You cannot show up at the door and say, ‘Look, we have this new drone, or we have this stuff. You guys are gonna use it, you’re gonna love it, don’t worry about it,’” said James Acuña, CEO of Estonia-based Frontier Vectors—a defense technology and venture capital consultancy—and former senior U.S. intelligence officer.

“It won’t work—and it hasn’t worked—if you’re not listening to the needs and if you’re not listening to the warfighters in Ukraine as to what they need,” Acuña explained.

Therefore, BRAVE1 aims to formalize and onboard an innovative adoption process and to share lessons across all units involved in the fight. The areas where they are focusing are electronic warfare, artillery, intelligence, artificial intelligence and robotics, according to Kushnerska.

Still, they are open to a variety of ideas and to improvisation. “We’re talking about the technical solutions that matter,” Kushnerska summarized.

After initial contacts, the process continues with feedback from the agency. If the project is prioritized, an initial grant of $25,000 is invested. There are also private funds involved, as investors from around the world seek inroads to battle-tested technologies as well, according to Kushnerska.

At the time of reporting, two projects had been expedited and are ready for final approval. One is for the detection of drones, artillery and helicopters. The second initiative is linked to electronic warfare. The details are secret.

Kushnerska understands the difference that a capability can mean in saving the life of a father, son or brother. Her sense of urgency is palpable. Her husband is a sniper with the Ukrainian Army, who is recovering from a combat injury suffered in Bakhmut. He cares for their two children, 7 and 4, in Kyiv, while she travels around Europe and invites innovators to approach her agency.

“We need to help them to find the solutions and answers very fast and very effectively because for us, really, every minute matters,” Kushnerska told SIGNAL Media in an interview.

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