A drone rests as a Ukrainian soldier walks by.
A Ukrainian serviceman walks past a drone during a training session outside Kiev, Nov. 6, 2014. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

The Ukrainian military received its first military drones this week as part of a partnership with the country’s state-owned defense company Ukroboronprom, which developed and built the unmanned aerial vehicles to help in the fight against Russian-backed rebels in the east of the country. The first three drones, built by a subsidiary of the company, arrived at a Ukrainian military base where they will be used to spy on the enemy and help soldiers learn to operate them before new ones arrive next year, according to a Defense News report Friday.

A statement released by the manufacturing company said the design-to-production phase took one year, which is an exceptionally short period time compared with Western-designed drones, which can take years to test before being produced.

Until now, the Ukrainian army and other volunteer battalions have been using small commercial drones to increase their surveillance operations against Russian-backed separatists in the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

The drone, also known as the BpAK-MP-1, was built by Meridian, a government-owned subsidiary in cooperation with a research team from Kiev Technical University.

A tactical version of the drone, which will be fitted with combat capabilities, will be built in late 2016 and supplied to the Ukrainian armed forces in the first quarter of 2017, Yuriy Paschenko, deputy director general of Ukroboronprom, said. He did not disclose the full cost of the project.

The Ukraine war began in April 2014, just a month after Crimea was annexed by Russia, and pitted the Ukrainian military against a group of poorly equipped rebel soldiers who wanted autonomy for the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. However, quickly after the war began, it became clear that rebels were being given small arms and advanced heavy weaponry by the Kremlin. In addition, Russian soldiers were sent to the war zone to augment rebel forces, according to western military officials and NATO.