Case Study: Drone Control App 

Military drones are transforming warfare and are extensively used on battlefields, such as the Russia-Ukraine war. The constant development of this technology and the wide variety of drones are reshaping the playing field in this war. They also influence the way future armed conflicts will be solved. Ukraine stopped the advance of the Russian forces – an army with far superior military equipment – primarily through the strategic use of drones.

drone control app

Unmanned vehicles (UVs) can support a wide range of operations, from transporting supplies and equipment to the battlefield, to attacking targets and serving as electronic countermeasures. Despite the diversity in drone types and purposes, they are generally controlled in a similar manner: through an app. Our team has developed several military projects, including those that fulfil state defence orders for Ukraine. In this article, we’ll share some of our insights and experiences.

Types of Military Drones

From palm-sized UVs to those more than 45 feet long, military drones can perform a wide range of functions. Here are the most common types of AVs by usage:

Surveillance drones

These vehicles monitor various landscapes, including the most inaccessible ones, providing real-time data and footage. A key feature is their ability to rapidly transmit information to the control centre. Covering the entire section of the front line and observing both troop movements and logistics requires many of these small vehicles. Based on the data they provide, fire adjustments can be made, and so instant data transmission is crucial. They often feature high-precision cameras, and are designed to be inconspicuous, so only the newest air defences can detect them. 

Solar panels can also be installed on the wings or body of the drone in order to harness solar energy and convert it into electrical power. Serving as a supplementary power source, these panels can extend flight times, allowing the drone to remain airborne for longer periods without needing to land and recharge. However, developing such a drone presents challenges because it requires a large surface area to capture sunlight, which makes the drone more noticeable and heavier. Despite these challenges, solar energy conversion technologies are advancing. We believe these drones are the future and hope to someday work on a similar project. We are very interested in this area and have the necessary engineers for the task. We are confident that these advancements will soon revolutionise how surveillance drones operate.

Combat drones 

Combat drones are equipped with weapon systems, including missiles, bombs, or guided projectiles for striking enemy targets. These drones serve dual purposes: executing strikes and gathering battlefield intelligence. Key features such as lifting capacity, target identification, and missile capabilities are essential for this type of unmanned vehicle (UV). They are capable of carrying missiles of various weights and types and can execute precise strikes on targets.

These drones become significantly more complex as they become easier to detect by air defence systems. If you’re familiar with the Russian-Ukrainian war, you might know that in 2022, Ukraine heavily relied on Bayraktars, deploying several hundred of them. But perhaps you were not aware that by 2024, almost all of them had been shot down by Russian air defence. Therefore, drone technology continues to evolve. For instance, Bayraktar has now developed a drone equipped with a jet engine, making it harder for air defences to counter. Notably, these jet engines were developed and manufactured in Ukraine, showcasing the country’s strong expertise in this field. In any case with this type of drone, speed, lifting capacity, and flight duration are typically the most critical features.

Cargo and logistics drones

This type of drone is designed to eliminate the need for manned vehicles when transporting equipment to troops and conducting resupply missions. They offer superior manoeuvrability and accessibility compared to other transport methods. Many cargo drones are equipped with autonomous flight capabilities, enabling them to operate with minimal human intervention.

Lifting capacity and speed are critically important, especially on the front lines where the enemy may attempt to shoot down your drone. That’s why we don’t yet use drones to transport tanks, but delivering ammunition and evacuating wounded personnel are certainly feasible. Autonomous navigation systems and obstacle avoidance sensors are crucial for planning and executing missions both safely and efficiently.

Electronic warfare (EW) drones

Electronic warfare (EW) drones disrupt and disable communications and electronic devices using EW techniques. These unmanned vehicles (UVs) can also counter other drones, such as enemy surveillance drones, effectively reducing the enemy’s ability to detect friendly forces. EW drones are designed with features that enhance their survivability and make them less detectable by enemy air defences. These features may include low-observable characteristics to reduce their infrared signature, as well as built-in electronic counter-countermeasures to thwart enemy attempts to jam or intercept signals. Additionally, this type of UV can act as a “shield” against the enemy’s FPV drones. The key attributes of EW drones include their EW capabilities, resistance to enemy EW efforts, and flight range.

Suicide drones

Suicide drones, also known as kamikaze drones, detect and attack targets by self-destructing. They carry explosives and are engineered to loiter for extended periods around the target area. Kamikaze drones offer a cost-effective alternative to conventional manned aircraft, artillery, or guided missiles for destroying high-value targets. Their relatively low cost combined with lethal capabilities make them excellent choices for enhancing precision strike capabilities.

This type of drone is currently in the highest demand on the battlefield in the Russia-Ukraine war. The cost of such a drone ranges from $400-600 depending on the configuration, while a 155 mm projectile (NATO standard) costs several thousand dollars. Additionally, suicide drones achieve greater accuracy in hitting their targets.

Types of drones by operational domain:

  • Air drones are the most widely used type. These UAVs are essential for surveillance and intelligence, enhancing situational awareness, conducting airstrikes, and supporting ground troops in various operations. 
  • Water surface and submarine drones, or unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), patrol coastal waters, conduct surveillance, and detect underwater threats like mines and submarines. They can also be armed with missiles. 
  • Ground drones range from small, agile units for logistics and reconnaissance missions to larger, armoured vehicles equipped with weapons and sensors to support combat operations.

These represent just the main types of drones; each category actually includes many subtypes tailored for specific purposes. For instance, there are over 30 different subtypes of aerial drones. Naval kamikaze boats have enabled Ukraine, a country without a significant naval fleet, to destroy about half of the Russian Black Sea fleet, which was among the strongest in the region. We have experience with several drone types, mostly aerial. Each drone requires software, particularly a control app, which is our specialty at SECL Group – as we focus more on software than hardware.

With such a vast range of applications and utility, drones have become an integral part of military operations. This is why so many state and private defence companies have shown interest in further developing the UAV sector.

Warfare Revolution 2023 – 2024

As a Ukrainian company ourselves, we’ve been working on drone app development long before the onset of the full-scale war. From 2017, our efforts had mostly been geared towards the civilian sector, tackling group cargo delivery and drone control, each with its own set of challenges, from carrying capacity to landing site recognition.

With the start of the full-scale war, every aspect of our expertise suddenly became crucial for Ukraine’s defence efforts. By simply switching the drones’ payloads from commercial goods to missiles, drones can be adapted for military use.

All of the problems and issues we’ve previously solved, such as lifting capacity, speed, target recognition, interception protection, and encrypted communication, became extremely valuable. We were well-prepared, so pivoting to focus on these military applications became a natural progression.

Without question, there is a revolution going on at present in modern warfare. Until 2022, drones were primarily supporting tools, used mainly for reconnaissance. Since then, drones have played a pivotal role in halting the Russian offensive, destroying, by various accounts, between 50-70% of its modern military equipment. Russia now resorts to using outdated machinery from the 1940s and 1950s, which is also rapidly depleting thanks to drone attacks.

Their naval fleet has suffered similarly, with half destroyed by drones, while the rest no longer risk deployment. This mirrors the situation with the Crimean Bridge, also affected by drone attacks, which has taken over 6 months to partially repair, restoring only car traffic while freight rail services remain suspended.

Drones have made these extraordinary military achievements possible. Today, controlling the most advanced drones translates to capabilities once thought impossible, and as a development company, we are deeply involved in these advancements, especially from a software development perspective.

Between 2022 to 2023, drones started to appear on the battlefield, largely employing civilian technology. A common example was the DJI Mavic, typically used for aerial photography but adapted for reconnaissance, or to carry missiles. FPV drones underwent similar modifications, transforming into kamikaze drones with great success, especially as Russian forces lacked effective anti-drone measures.

But through the first phase of 2024, the dynamics have changed. Civilian drones, vulnerable to interception or electronic warfare, started facing significant challenges. This has driven the need for better protection against interception, improved signal reception chips, and the incorporation of AI for enhanced target recognition and homing when signals fail. And this is merely the tip of the iceberg. 

The Features of a Drone Control App

No matter the type of drone or its function, control is essential. Custom drone software development is often key to ensuring UAVs operate safely and effectively. At SECL Group, we’ve incorporated the following essential functionality into our drone control app for military UAVs, on behalf of one of our clients. 

UAV Control

This feature set is designed to enhance operational stability under a variety of conditions, from adverse weather to communication failures and physical damage. The system enables the vehicle to dodge obstacles and adjust to changing environments as needed, including controls for speed and manoeuvrability.


It’s clear that ordinary GPS systems aren’t suitable for military drones, as they leave the vehicle open to tracking. Alternatives such as inertial navigation systems (INS), visual odometry, terrain following, and mapping – or, indeed, a mix of these technologies – provide safer navigation options. Drone control software typically supports multiple secure communication methods to monitor drone status and identify potential problems early, thus facilitating preventative maintenance for optimal reliability.

Flight Data Monitoring

This feature allows for the real-time sharing of critical information with command centres, ground forces, and other relevant units. It significantly enhances situational awareness about flight conditions and the environment, improving decision-making. This often involves sharing photos or video data.

Target Tracking and Identification

Advanced image processing algorithms, powered by AI and ML, are employed here for robust target tracking and identification capabilities. These features are crucial for mission planning and execution, even if the connection to the control centre is disrupted.

Secure Communication

To prevent hacking of your drone or data breaches, it is crucial to incorporate encrypted communication channels. Providing exceptional data security is essential when building apps for military drones, as they need to withstand electronic warfare and communicate effectively.

Drone control software

Satellite communications are frequently used as well. For instance, some Ukrainian drones use Starlink technology to transmit video streams even at distances of hundreds of kilometres away from the centre. Maritime kamikaze drones equipped with this technology are partly why there are so many videos of Russian warship explosions.

Safety Features

These features ensure the integrity of the vehicle in various environments. For example, the ability to detect and avoid collisions and obstacles is crucial for the successful completion of missions. This is particularly important for planning long-distance missions in challenging environments.

Flight Planning

This functionality helps plan and execute complex mission profiles, including waypoint navigation, route optimization, and autonomous flight modes. UAV operators can pre-program missions and modify parameters as needed to adapt to changing operational conditions.

Route setting functions are  a must for extended-range drones covering hundreds or even thousands of kilometres. They are particularly important if the UV has no satellite connection and is in offline mode. This is precisely how Russia uses Iranian Shaheds to bomb Ukraine; they fly along a predetermined trajectory and manoeuvre. However, due to the low quality of the Iranian Shaheds, they often crash into Ukrainian residential buildings.

Compliance with Military Standards

Military organisations and alliances have set military standards and regulations for the security, interoperability, and performance of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). These standards ensure UAVs are compatible with other military systems and meet operational requirements. Adhering to these standards is essential when developing custom drone apps for countries that are members of specific organisations.

For example, all the features we’ve discussed comply with NATO requirements for standard interfaces in unmanned aircraft control systems, ensuring NATO interoperability. We have also adhered to these interface standards in several of our drone projects.

ACIS Compliance

Many drones require integration with the ACIS (Allied Command and Control Information System) or its equivalent. This system boosts interoperability and supports the standardisation of command and control systems across NATO member states. It also includes specific security protocols and standards. Ensuring compliance with ACIS security standards during the development of a drone control app helps reduce the risk of data breaches, minimises compatibility issues, and opens up a wider market for drone technologies and solutions.

What Software is Needed for a Drone

Controlling a drone, particularly in battlefield scenarios, is a complex task. Merely using a drone control app is not enough. Here are some additional systems you might need for effective drone operations:

– Drone group control system

– AI target identification

– Charge control (reset)

– Special sensor control, which may include night vision and heat-seeking guidance sensors, which require dedicated software.

AI and ML in Drone Control App Development

With the advancement of electronic warfare systems, interruptions in the signal from the control centre have become more common, causing drones to fall. To combat this, AI is being actively incorporated into drones, enabling them to recognize and attack targets autonomously if signal is lost. Integrating AI and ML algorithms can also streamline UAV operation and control. 

Here are a few potential use cases: 

For example, drone control apps often use sophisticated AI and machine vision to avoid collisions and obstacles and maintain safe flight paths without direct human intervention and even within GPS-denied environments. 

AI and ML can be used to recognize patterns and anomalies in data, which helps identify potential threats or suspicious activities. By analysing data streams from various sensors, including cameras, radar, etc, drones can inform operators of abnormal situations or potential security risks.

Similarly, just as drones use sensors to detect obstacles, they can also be configured to identify enemy troops and equipment. This requires training the drones with real-life data, essentially teaching them to recognize enemy assets from various angles and at different distances.

Furthermore, these technologies allow UAVs to consolidate and analyse data from multiple sources, enhancing situational awareness and decision-making support. By evaluating layered data, drones can assist operators in making informed decisions and prioritising actions in dynamic environments. Drones can also be programmed to locate the origin of a new signal and target the EW source, neutralising it if the signal is intercepted.

Drone Group Control Features 

Previously, we developed drone control software for civilian UVs. Through this experience, we’ve become well-versed in the regulations governing drone operations, which typically cover:

  • Flight altitude limits
  • No-fly zones
  • Registration requirements
  • Airspace regulations
  • Licensing for operators.

Now, we’re applying that same expertise to military drones. For example, if the enemy is actively using electronic warfare, air defences, or other defensive measures, we can deploy multiple drones to attack the target from all sides. These drones can be AI-controlled, ensuring that even if some are shot down, others will still reach their target. We can employ a similar strategy against groups of enemy soldiers, with each drone targeting an individual soldier and striking simultaneously, much like cluster munitions.

Drone group control is one of our specialties.  We use AI algorithms and take into account the regulations of the specific country, especially concerning no-fly zones around infrastructure like airports or military facilities. As drone flight regulations are still being developed in most countries, and new laws are continually being enacted – similar to those for aeroplanes and helicopters – it’s crucial to stay informed and compliant. What’s more, it is also possible to integrate multiple types of drones in a single operation, such as pairing attack drones with reconnaissance drones to coordinate the management of multiple units.

How Much Does it Cost to Build a Drone Control App

The cost of custom drone controller app development depends on different factors, from the app’s complexity and platform to the size of the development team and the technologies used. Now, let’s break down the costs according to all these aspects. 

The Scope of a Drone Control App

The scope and complexity of the app play a key role in determining the cost of custom drone app development. A basic app with functionalities like flight control and live video streaming may be more affordable than one with advanced capabilities such as object identification, emergency landing, and real-time data analysis.

Technologies Used

The technologies that are chosen significantly impact the cost of drone app development. Commonly used technologies in such projects include:

  • Kotlin or Swift for native mobile applications, and React Native or Flutter for cross-platform development
  • C++ for low-level drone control and critical tasks related to drone hardware
  • Python in SDKs and libraries for drone control, as Python bindings simplify script and application writing for developers
  • Drone SDKs provided by manufacturers (e.g., DJI SDK or Parrot SDK) offer basic functionality, but you can also develop custom features for more specialised control apps
  • MAVLink libraries to facilitate telemetry and control information exchange, using a protocol widely adopted for communication between drones and ground control stations
  • Simulation tools such as Gazebo and AirSim for testing and validating drone control algorithms and applications
  • Other technologies like machine learning frameworks, computer vision libraries, and real-time operating systems (RTOS) may also be used depending on project requirements.

These are just a few examples of the technologies available, and the final selection will depend on the specific requirements, standards, and hardware used.

Development Team Location

The location of the development team also affects the final cost of the drone control app. By working with SECL group, you will gain access to developers from various regions, including Latin America and Eastern Europe, where developer rates are generally lower than in the US or Western Europe.

The cost for a basic drone app starts at $8-10K. The budget may increase depending on factors such as the complexity of features, platform compatibility, design requirements, and development resources. It’s important to carefully consider these elements when planning your app development budget. For a comprehensive solution, and not just software, partnering with a team in Ukraine is advisable, enabling you to test drones under real-life combat conditions.

Wrapping Up

At SECL Group, we have a long history of drone app development, though our involvement in the military sector has only been for the last two years. Our expertise primarily lies in software, but we also collaborate with partners on developing drone hardware. During our development of a drone control app, we maintained close collaboration with our client, and considered the unique requirements of the military industry to ensure that UAVs are less vulnerable and more successful in completing missions than ordinary drones.

If you are looking to develop a custom drone control app, please contact us for a consultation on your project.


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