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How Ukrainian military is turning cheap tablets into dangerous weapons

Army SOS, an activist-led NGO, converts Android-based tablets into smart units with automated precision guidance. The tablet can acquire and transmit coordinates for correcting artillery fire from its user, a drone, or a radar.

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Oleksiy Savchenko contributed to the creation of one of the most potent and affordable weaponry that is now used by thousands of Ukrainian service members years before Russia invaded Ukraine.

He participated in the months-long protests in Kyiv that led to the overthrow of pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.

In retaliation, Moscow annexed Crimea and sparked a separatist conflict in southeast Ukraine. This prompted Savchenko to form Army SOS, a non-governmental organization, together with other like-minded individuals.

Read more: Ex-Google CEO: Conflict in Ukraine shows the importance of IT

For former protestors who offered to combat the separatists despite being ill-prepared and with little training, the group donated money to buy flak jackets and other military equipment.

And as the group delivered the gear to the front line, the volunteers and service members asked for something they needed badly.

“Guys, give us maps, we need maps, we only have Soviet ones from the 1980s. Where there used to be a field is now a village or an apartment building,” Savchenko recalled them saying.

But instead of printing thousands of pages, Army SOS went for a tech solution.

They asked a group of software developers in Kyiv to install satellite maps and Ukrainian military data on tablets and smartphones.

Read more: Pakistan selling weapons to Ukraine?

According to a Ukrainian service member who responded to the novelty in 2014, troops started seeing their surroundings better, and the tools allowed them to correct artillery more clearly and precisely.

More suggestions were passed on.

The manual data entry and usage of artillery tables required by the Soviet-era method of guiding fire result in computations that can take up to 15 minutes.

However, the solution developed by Army SOS and the developers completely altered the system.

The program, known as Kropiva (nettle), is one of a number of cutting-edge tools and weapons that have assisted in transforming the Ukrainian military from a hopeless underdog to a significant force of resistance.

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