Recently, there was a buzz on social media that Ukraine is developing its long-range kamikaze drone to counter the Russian Geran-2 (Shahed-136), which is wreaking havoc in Ukraine by effortlessly and quite economically destroying Ukraine’s power generation capacity. The Ukrainian drone would have a heavier warhead.
Ukrainian arms manufacturer Ukroboronprom has reportedly revealed that development of a 1,000-kilometer kamikaze drone with a 75-kilogram warhead is nearing completion.
There is no doubt that Ukraine is technically capable of assembling such a drone in a short period of time, bearing in mind that it could get all the help needed in the development and production of the drone from Turkey, the US or any other NATO country.
Ukraine already has loitering ammunition in its inventory, but loitering ammunition is very different from a kamikaze drone like Geran-2.
Typically, loitering ammunition has a short line-of-sight dependent range (20 to 30 kilometers when loitering at about two kilometers altitude). Hanging ammunition also has an optical (TV or IR) viewfinder that allows the operator to fly the ammunition into the target with near pinpoint accuracy.
The silent thunder of Ukraine
Ukraine’s ST-35 Silent Thunder pendant ammunition was developed by Athlon Avia. It is a 9.5 kilogram drone with a 3.5 kilogram warhead with a cruising speed between 120 km/h and 140 km/h and a range of 30 kilometers.
The loitering ammunition can be deployed in 15 to 20 minutes and can stay in the air for up to 60 minutes.
ST-35 is precision guided semi-automatically using television or infrared (IR) guiding heads that can be swapped out depending on visibility and weather conditions. It can destroy a target with minimal risk of collateral damage.
The drone can destroy radar stations, command posts and command and control platforms.
Hanging ammo vs. Geran-2
As mentioned, the Geran-2 differs from loitering ammunition with its longer (1,800 to 2,500 kilometers) range and lack of end guidance.
If you increase the range of a drone, you will need to install a satellite navigation unit (SATNAV) to enable it to reach its target. You can think of a Geran-2 drone as a long-range loitering ammunition or a slow cruise missile.
To minimize production costs, Geran-2 flies autonomously and hits its target at the coordinates loaded into it, eliminating the need for operator guidance using SATCOM.
The Geran-2 has a different role than destroying a target, a role that is often overlooked. Because it is low detectable (LO), Geran-2 can draw in and waste enemy air defense assets – missiles and anti-aircraft guns! Taking into account the cost of even a short-range AD missile, it plays an important role. And judging by the videos posted on SM, the Geran-2 fills its secondary role with aplomb!
What would a Ukrainian long-range kamikaze drone achieve?
The Geran-2 lacks end guidance and has a 40 kilogram warhead. It cannot locate attacks against static or moving military targets such as tanks, guns, missile systems, radars, etc. A loitering drone like the ST-35 can do that! The Geran-2 is most effective when used against infrastructure targets.
So what would Ukraine do with a Geran-2-esque drone? It could hit infrastructure targets in western Russia (formerly eastern Ukraine), but that wouldn’t affect Russian warfare. Instead, it will only cause more pain to people Ukraine considers its citizens.
More importantly, Russia has sharpened its ability to defend itself against drones during its Syrian campaign and from the lessons it has learned from the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Russia uses close-range AD mobile systems such as Pantsir and Tor to defend its high-value targets against all types of airborne threats. The systems have regular missiles to attack aircraft-sized targets (57E6 in the case of Pantsir and 9M330 in the case of Tor). They also have small missiles specifically designed to attack drones.
For example, the Pantsir can also carry smaller Gvozd missiles with a range of 5-7 kilometers, designed to counter smaller threats such as MLRS and mini-UAVs. The Pantsir-SM can carry up to 48 Gvozd missiles instead of 12 57E6 missiles or a mix with the longer range missiles.
Russian success in enabling small drones
Recently, RuMoD published a video showing a Tor system firing multiple missile salvos and destroying several Ukrainian UAVs trying to locate Russian forces in the Donbas region.
“About 15 drones were destroyed. Including the UAV ‘Valkyrie’ and ‘Fury’”, said the team leader.
Valkyrie is a small 3.5 kilogram drone with a camera to spot the target. The drone can stay in the air for 120 minutes and has a range of 34 kilometers. The maximum speed of the drone is 108 km/h and the service ceiling is two kilometers.
Fury, or BPAC A1-S/A1-SM Furia, is a slightly larger (5.5 kilograms) drone used for aerial reconnaissance day and night, determining target coordinates and adjusting artillery fire. It has a range of 200 kilometers. The maximum speed of the drone is 130 km/h and the service ceiling is 2.5 kilometers.
Most likely, Ukraine will use its long-range kamikaze drone to attack infrastructure targets deep in Russia, taking advantage of its drone’s 1,000-kilometer range. How well Ukraine’s kamikaze drones fare against Russian Pantsir & Tor systems remains to be seen.
- Vijainder K Thakur is a retired IAF Jaguar pilot. He is also an author, software architect, entrepreneur and military analyst.
- Contact the author at vkthakur(at)gmail.com
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