The UK has issued an invitation to tender (ITT) for a batch of up to 300 first-person view (FPV) drones intended to be supplied to Ukrainian forces, but limited in participation to industry from countries within the Ukraine Defence Contact Group (UDCG).

Announcing the opening of bidding on 3 June 2024, the UK Government stated that the competition would produce drones “at scale and an affordable price point, leveraging the strength of Western industry”.

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Notably, this excludes drones produced by Chinese companies such as DJI, which is the world’s most proliferate commercial drone manufacturer.

However, in May the Ukrainian Government revealed it had acquired more than 4,000 DJI Mavic drones through the Prozorro online auction marketplace, bringing the total number of DJI drones acquired by Ukraine to more than 8,000 units.

The UK Government stated that companies have until 28 June 2024 to submit their proposals, which will then be considered by the Drone Capability Coalition members and evaluated.

Successful companies will receive orders to supply drones to Ukraine, with the intent is to place larger, follow up orders for FPV drones. Additional FPV competitions are expected to take place through 2024, building on the lessons learned from this first competition.

The UK Government stated that the competition is open to industry from any nation in the Ukraine Defence Contact Group, which is a collection of Nato and other nations supporting Ukraine’s war effort against Russia.

UK drone numbers a drop in Ukraine’s requirement ocean

A UK invitation to tender (ITT) notice, published on 3 June, indicated the start date for the UK-Latvia drone contract would be mid-August, with initial plans to procure up to 15 batches of first-person view racing quadcopter style drones, consisting of 20 drones each and potential associated options, capable of carrying varying payloads depending on their propeller size.

In total, three separate ITTs exist within the UK Government’s overall tender, divided by FPV drone rotor sizes of 7 inches (“), 8”, and 10”.

Confusingly, the individual ITTs each list a requirement of three batches of at least 20 drones being sought, which totals 180 systems in total.

The intent is that, following testing, platforms that meet the requirements will be considered for a potential future production contract, up to around 1000 drones per month. The contract is listed as being up to £300,000 ($383,000) in value.

However, the numbers being aspired towards are already being procured by the Ukrainian Government, according to recent information released by the country’s Ministry of Defence, which in May said that it had acquired a further 4,200 DJI Mavic drones for use against Russian forces, although the origin of the platforms was not disclosed.

According to the MoD’s Lethal Defense Acquisition Agency the total value of the contracts amounted to Hrv1.1bn ($27.4m). Together with previous purchases, the number of DJI Mavic’s contracted by the Lethal Defense Acquisition Agency stands at 8,200 sets (7,200 DJI Mavic 3E and 1,000 DJI Mavic 3T), the MoD stated.

“Drones have evolved into an essential component of modern warfare. They strengthen our defence capabilities, increasing military operations’ effectiveness. Therefore, the procurement of drones is one of the main tasks of the Ministry of Defense,” said Deputy Defense Minister of Ukraine Dmytro Klimenkov.

According to the results of auctions on Prozorro, the Ukrainian MoD stated that the average price for one UAS was $3,300 for a DJI Mavic 3E with three additional batteries and a charger, and UAH 194,200 $4,800 for a DJI Mavic 3T with three additional batteries and a charger.

In addition, the Ukrainian MoD’s Defense Procurement Agency conducted auctions for an additional 4,000 DJI Mavic 3E and 1,500 DJI Mavic 3T BPA as of 20 May 2024, with contracts “expected to be signed”.

The price points listed by Ukraine in May are around double of that listed in the UK Government contract, but broadly in line with the face-value commercial cost of a Mavic drone on DJI website.