Kamikaze Drones: Dying to Attack.

Preamble.

Since hostilities began in the Ukraine eight months ago, drones have been employed as never before. In the last eight years, since Maidan, larger craft such as the American Global Hawk became a ubiquitous sight over both the Black Sea as well as the Ukraine. Once Russia’s Military Operation in the Ukraine began, operations using drones of this type were curtailed over the country itself, but in their place came kamikaze drones have risen to fame as war took over the region. These have become not only a familiar sight across the combat zone, but are now the go-to weapon for many operations. This article will look at these smaller craft and why they have become a key weapon in this war. We shall also take a closer look at Russia’s Lancet UAVs, two suicide drones that are now wreaking havoc wherever they are used. Before we look at what these weapons can do, we first have to take a closer look at what they are.

Punching Above their Weight.

Rather than them being unmanned craft costing tens of millions of dollars, these single-use aircraft are in their own way, becoming just as useful in certain situations as their manned counterparts. These drones differ completely from the other types of civilian fliers that have also been used in the Ukraine insofar at they are purpose-built for military tasks and are not expected to be used more than once. With some having the ability to intercept other UAVs or even loiter as they wait for a target to appear, kamikaze drones are giving their owners much-needed punch, yet in a considerably smaller, cheaper and more precise manner than anything that has come before. They are rather more compact than the now familiar Geran-2 drones being used over the Ukraine, in some cases small enough to be carried in a backpack. Moreover, once in the field, they can be operated by personnel with a minimum of training, a great number of troops being able to deploy them when there is a change in battlefield conditions or when their need is suddenly felt. In terms of acquiring their targets, they can either be guided optically by their operator or alternatively through inertial and GPS systems.

On the Fly.

With these new craft being as light and portable as they are, this means that they can be rapidly and unobtrusively deployed into an area of operations, a soldier or vehicle being able to transport them. Moreover, their physical characteristics mean that they require no landing strip or other special preparations, a team and their drone being able to go into action at a moment’s notice. Some UAVs are launched from a skid, some a tube, whilst others use a special catapult.

As miniaturization has increased exponentially over the last twenty years, the control and communications systems on small drones such as these today is truly mind-boggling. Not only are the individual components so much smaller than before, but their interaction with both each other as well as their operators has improved so greatly, a trooper in a trench today is better aware of the status of their craft than fighter pilots were fifty years ago. This has meant that these mighty midgets can be carried by one man into battle, air superiority suddenly being created in the midst of a ground operation, therefore completely changing a heated battle in a heartbeat.

Hitting the Mark.

The technology available as well as the miniaturization of components means that a modern drone nose how to find its target.

With smaller drones got having the punch of larger systems, precision is vital to their success. Whereas inertial or GPS systems are good enough against larger targets or where a larger warhead is used, these babies of the battlefield must not only hit something as small as a vehicle, but strike it in a certain fashion. Small ten pound warheads may destroy a tank from the rear, but if they impact against the glacis plate where the armor is thickest, they will just wake the crew rather than putting them to sleep. With that, we must look at another facet that these weapons possess.

Dynamic Decisions.

As previously mentioned, these drones, as multiple videos attest, can be very effective against tanks and armored vehicles. The problem with this is that being mobile, tanks and the like do appear and disappear from view as well as moving around. With both satellite and line-of-sight communications having advanced as they have, this means that the operator remains in real-time control of the drone at the same time as he sees what it does. Therefore, he can instantly maneuver the drone or switch targets on the fly should it be necessary. Not only does this mean that the kill rate goes up, but the probability of finding a suitable target to engage also increases. This may appear akin a video game, but when viewed from an operational perspective, it is little different to what kids have been playing on consoles for years, yet this time in a real game of life-or-death.

Role-playing Games.

Far from being limited to just homing in on vehicles and emplacements, they can also be programmed to attack similar enemy UAVs if the situation dictates. There are two sides to the robot air wars taking place over the Ukraine and as important as they are, denying that same advantage to opposing forces is equally critical. Moreover, there are some models which are not designed to attack anything at all. These are capable of loitering for up to an hour, are fitted with better cameras and communications equipment which in turn allows them to fly higher and further than their more destructive cousins. Their role is to glean intelligence in order that their operators gain the upper hand. Whilst not true kamikaze drones per se, they are similar enough to be covered by this article.

The Lancet. Russia’s cutting Edge.

The Lancet family of UAVs has received a lot publicity of late, not least due to its sci-fi x-wing profile. With Russia’s increasing use of this system against targets, it is proving to be a nightmare for the Ukrainians and those fighting alongside them. There are two models, the Lancet-1 and Lancet-3. The baby of the two is five feet long, weighs twelve pounds, has a wingspan of around three feet and can carry a two pound warhead for around half an hour and to a distance of around twenty miles.

Big brother Lancet-3 is around twenty five pounds in weight has a wingspan of approximately eight feet and is ten feet long. It can fly for about forty minutes, delivering a ten pound warhead around twenty five miles from its operator. Both these drones are electrically powered and cruise at between fifty and sixty miles an hour. That speed however can be as high as two hundred if the terminal flight phase means approaching a target in a dive.

Switchback.

Russia does not have all the weapons however. The US Switchblade suicide drone is broadly similar to the Lancet-1, yet much smaller and less capable. It carries a similar sized two pound warhead, but only being twenty inches long and weighing under six pounds, its flight time is limited to about ten minutes. These have been used by Ukrainian forces in the conflict, yet there have been very few reports of their use and even less has been said of their effectiveness.

Summary.

To quote A J P Taylor, ‘War is the mother of all invention’, and the last decade has seen more innovation regarding UAVs than in any decade prior. This can be seen in every aspect of these craft. When we look at propulsion, range, capability and above all the control that their pilots have over them today, machines such as these were unthinkable only a few years ago. The impact they are having on the conflict is arguably greater than the effect that conventional aircraft had on the First World War, but with their development still continuing apace, we can only speculate as to their influence as we look to the future…

Via https://gpovanman.wordpress.com/2022/11/06/kamikaze-drones-dying-to-attack/