Russia Unveils Next-Gen Kamikaze Drones
Russia is experimenting with “kamikaze drones,” or unmanned aircraft that are mostly flying artillery shells. According to Alexander Zakharov, chief designer at ZALA Aero, factory testing of the KYB-BLA and Lancet weapons have been completed. He told this to a Russian news agency TASS in a Russian defense trade show. ZALA Aero is a fragment of famed small arms maker Kalashnikov, which is now digging into drones.
The U.S. military doesn’t like the name “kamikaze drone,” choosing to call these weapons “loitering munitions” [Ed note: We like to call them UABs, i.e. Unmanned Aerial Bombs ☠]. In simple terms, they are small battlefield drones that are launched by an infantry platoon. With a camera installed, the drone can circle the battlefield while transmitting images to the troops on the ground. When the forces see a likely target, they can order the drone to dive into the target and detonate its warhead. This technology has offered the solution to a long-standing problem of how to target an enemy across the hill, who is safeguarded from surveillance or fire by terrain. Artillery, mortars, and airstrikes can achieve this, but positioning these fires takes time. A wandering munition essentially gives infantry their own precision-guided, indirect firepower.
The size of the warheads on a loitering munition isn’t huge, but it has the power of a grenade. The weapon is ideal for locating and hitting targets, such as enemy mortars, that are separated by land. Or, they can fly into windows to bring out enemy locations in urban battle. Zakharov described the Lancet as a smart multitasking weapon that can autonomously find a given enemy and hit it. “It is fitted with a television communication network, which communicates an image in real-time and helps you to check the success of hitting the target.”
However, other countries apart from Russia already possess loitering weapons. For e.g., the AeroVironment Switchblade is a 5.5-pound weapon that easily fits in an infantryman’s bag. The drone-missile has a range of ten kilometers, a speed 63 to 100 miles per hour, and an airborne strength of fifteen minutes. It is directed by day and night video cameras on the weapon and GPS. A brainchild of U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, and tested in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was a display weapon for the Army’s Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System (LMAMS) program. The Marine Corps has recently ordered its Switchblades.
The U.S Army posted a request for information (RFI) on which industry can deliver to meet LMAMS requirements in April 2019. Some of the elements are relatively refined. For instance, the weapon should have a range of at least twenty kilometers. The army demanded a loitering weapon that could follow and target speeding vehicles. The Army told the LMAMS shall have variable speed and be able to catch a target that is traveling up to 50 mph within a 5 km range from the launch point at the moment of take-off.
The U.S Marine Corps also submitted an RFI for a wandering munition, last year. However, the Marines desires a weapon with a range of around thirty-five miles and flight strength of an hour or two.
When it comes to loitering munitions, probably Israel steals the show. In the 1990s, Israel Aerospace Industries announced the Harpy anti-radar weapon. Unlike a traditional anti-radar missile that heads straight for the target, the Harpy would loiter over a battlefield, waiting to detect an enemy radar, and then home in on it.