Eric Schmidt’s Covert Project: AI Combat Drones (Code Name: White Stork)

Eric Schmidt's Covert Project: AI Combat Drones (Code Name: White Stork)

The ex-Google CEO has discreetly been involved in a military startup named White Stork, focusing on the development of “kamikaze” attack drones.

Billionaire technologist Eric Schmidt has been discreetly establishing a new drone startup, operating within a network of LLCs based in the U.S. and Ukraine, effectively concealing its activities and team members. This revelation by Forbes, made earlier this month, unveils the project named White Stork, a nod to Ukraine’s national bird and sacred totem, where Schmidt serves as a defense tech advisor and financier.

Officially founded in August, as per business incorporation records and insider sources, White Stork focuses on developing a mass-producible drone leveraging artificial intelligence for visual targeting, capable of operating in GPS jammed zero-communication environments.

Despite maintaining a stealth profile, White Stork has become an open secret within the drone community, disclosed by six individuals familiar with its operations to Forbes. During his engagements in Ukraine, Schmidt has visited manufacturing facilities, testing ranges, and engaged with various startups in his capacity as a prominent military tech investor, as per three insiders.

Delaware business filings indicate that White Stork previously operated under the LLC Swift Beat Holdings, subsequently changing its name to White Stork Group LLC in September. The holding company for Swift Beat, Volya Robotics OÜ, lists the former Google CEO as its sole beneficial owner in Delaware filings.

Further investigations reveal that Volya Robotics OÜ was incorporated in Estonia in December, with a legal director from Schmidt’s family office, Hillspire, serving as a board member. Estonia, known for being a popular incorporation destination for Ukrainian companies, adds a layer of complexity to White Stork’s corporate structure. Forbes is now revealing the names associated with Schmidt’s drone venture for the first time, as Schmidt remains unavailable for comment through a spokesperson.

In January, Swift Beat registered the domain, with an email address linked to The contact details list the phone number of a Hillspire IT manager, and the address corresponds to the Schmidt Family Foundation, a private grantmaking organization managed by Eric and Wendy Schmidt. Despite efforts, Forbes was unable to ascertain the nature of Aurelian Industries, which shares its name with a Delaware LLC incorporated this month, but it appears to be connected to the drone project.

None of the entities mentioned in the earlier information have been publicly launched. For instance, the website for Aurelian Industries remains inactive, and the name White Stork is currently associated with an unrelated U.S. charity that provides first aid to Ukrainian fighters.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Eric Schmidt has actively advocated for the use of drones as a strategic tool against the numerically superior Kremlin forces. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last July, he emphasized the significance of kamikaze drones, also known as “suicide drones,” for their ability to swiftly navigate the battlefield and neutralize targets. Schmidt asserted that these drones, when operated skillfully, are challenging to intercept. This argument was reiterated in a recent Foreign Affairs op-ed, where he highlighted the need for Ukraine to match Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities to counteract drone interference, a capability lacking in the weaponry supplied by Western allies.

Notably, Schmidt did not disclose in these op-eds his involvement with White Stork, which aims to address the aforementioned need. Schmidt has held multiple meetings with Ukraine’s top leaders since the Russian invasion, including a gathering in Kyiv last summer with Minister of Strategic Industries Oleksandr Kamyshin and First Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko. Attendees included Sebastian Thrun, an advisor to White Stork and former Google colleague of Schmidt; Mark Stonich, a former Google supply chain vice president; and Damon Vander Lind, a key engineer at Thrun’s now-defunct air-taxi startup Kitty Hawk. The purpose of the meeting remains unclear, but Svyrydenko expressed satisfaction with the partnership, affirming Ukraine’s commitment to technological advancements in defense.

At the time of publication, Kamyshin, Svyrydenko, Thrun, Stonich, and Vander Lind had not responded to requests for comment.

Despite Schmidt’s extensive involvement in U.S. national security efforts post his tenure as Google chairman, his engagement in the military ecosystem in Ukraine is relatively recent. In the past year, Schmidt invested millions in a Ukrainian startup accelerator, D3 (Dare to Defend Democracy), providing initial funding to defense tech companies. Will Roper, former U.S. Air Force acquisition chief and founder of Istari Digital, an AI-enabled weapons simulator supported by Schmidt, also participated in the meeting with Ukrainian government officials last summer. Roper, however, had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

A month later, Roper and Schmidt co-authored a Time op-ed, offering their advice to Kyiv. They emphasized Ukraine’s need to succeed in the “startup war,” constantly introducing new systems and software to the battlefield for ultimate triumph.

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