While the surveillance drone Vector from the Bavarian company Quantum Systems has long met with little interest from the Bundeswehr in this country, the Ukrainian consul quickly arranged a deal with the start-up in April. The drones were paid for by Ukrainian oligarchs, who spoke of a donation to their country's armed forces. In an interview with ntv.de, founder Florian Seibel explains what role drones play in modern wars and what startups and the military can learn from each other.
ntv.de: While it is being discussed whether Germany is too hesitant to deliver weapons, your startup Quantum Systems is supplying Ukrainian armed forces with reconnaissance drones. What is their job?
Florian Seibel: Our technology, which we have developed over the past seven years, is a so-called dual-use technology. Our drones can be used for commercial purposes, but also in the field of defense. The Ukrainians use our technology to spot enemy positions. This gives you an information advantage. Also, the Ukrainian army uses our drones to increase the effectiveness of their artillery.
What can the drone do?
Florian Seibel (r) studied at the Bundeswehr University and was a helicopter pilot in the German Air Force for 16 years.
The drones were not specifically designed for war. Are you concerned that it will be used there now?
The thought of war raging two hours east of Europe leaves me speechless. Ukraine is defending our western values. We would do well to support Ukraine as best we can. With Quantum we are able to make a small contribution.
The drones have also been ordered by Ukrainian oligarchs, among others. How many drones are there in total?
I don't want to give the exact number. Normally, a few test units are always ordered first. Our customers want to see how our drones work and are they even useful for their purposes. The Ukrainian oligarchs have ordered a handful. After the first tests were successful and we received very good feedback, other systems are now being developed. That's why I'm going to meet a Ukrainian oligarch in Munich next weekend and discuss how to proceed.
The first drones are already in the combat zone. How dangerous can these become for the Russian army?
Since only a handful of systems have been delivered so far, our drones are certainly not decisive for the war. Nevertheless, they make a contribution. We also want to draw attention to the topic. Germany, too, would do well to deal more closely with such future technologies.
The operation of drones requires a certain know-how. Are Ukrainian soldiers trained enough for this?
Right from the start, we placed great value on simple and intuitive handling. That's why we now had an advantage here. So far, drone training within the German armed forces, for example, has taken six to eight weeks. At this point we wanted to start with our system. The Ukrainians were able to operate our drones within a day or two. There were no difficulties with the training.
The Vector drone costs 180,000 euros.
So far, older weapon systems have been delivered to Ukraine. What role do drones play in modern wars?
Germany has been trying to tackle the issue of arming drones for some time. This failed for many years due to the attitude of the SPD, but it is now possible. The next step is to look at what small drones like the ones we offer can do. The small drones are networked in large numbers in swarms. This leads to an information advantage – and that will be even more crucial in the coming conflicts than before.
Quantum System's drones are unarmed. Could that change soon?
Our drones remain unarmed. Last but not least, it is also an attitude of ours as a company that we do not manufacture weapons, but rather a reconnaissance drone. European and Bavarian banks are also invested in Quantum Systems, which do not even allow for armament. Therefore, this question does not arise for us at all.
The Bundeswehr has also ordered drones from you. In recent years, Quantum Systems has repeatedly tried in vain to win orders from the German armed forces. Does the Ukraine war change the cooperation between startups and the German armed forces?
I hope so. Because I believe that we would do well to give small, innovative, fast companies a chance in the years to come. Startups are already showing how disruptive they are in many areas. Why shouldn't this also be possible in the field of defense and deep tech? In the Bundeswehr, however, a rethink must take place – especially when it comes to risks.
What do you mean?
The Bundeswehr is very careful that armament projects do not fail. This makes projects much more expensive and takes longer. We need a different error culture here. Fail quickly, interpret, learn and improve. It's better to try out only three or four systems first, instead of procuring many hundreds of systems at the same time.
How can startups and the military benefit from each other?
Together, startups and the military could learn quickly and adapt and develop systems. In cooperation with the Bundeswehr, systems could be tailored much better to the customer. So far, it has been the case that very long lists of requirements are written and then it takes years or decades to develop against such a requirement. The Bundeswehr must get away from procuring systems that are already outdated when they are delivered.
To what extent does Quantum Systems benefit from the 100 billion euro special fund for the equipment of the German armed forces?
Not at all until now. The big established players are also currently trying to make their cut and negotiate potential orders among themselves. We are therefore demanding that one percent of the special assets flow into defense start-ups. In my opinion, a regulation is needed that allows small and medium-sized companies to do business directly with the Bundeswehr.