The military conflict between Armenia / Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) on the one hand and Azerbaijan / Turkey on the other hand clearly showed the increased importance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on the battlefield. If everyone is somehow accustomed to striking anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) using medium-sized UAVs (MALE class), then the use of kamikaze UAVs, destroying targets by self-detonation, is still a novelty, although even before Azerbaijan in their use already Israel has long been noted.
We can say that homing kamikaze ammunition was created during the Second World War, but at that time they were not unmanned. And if the projects of German missiles of the FAU type with a person on board did not receive development, then the Japanese experience of using kamikaze aircraft showed the highest efficiency of this type weapons.
The project of a cruise missile (CR) FAU-4 with a pilot on board. At the final guidance site, the pilot had to leave the rocket with a parachute. Japanese kamikaze pilots did not have such an opportunity.
The concept of "UAV-kamikaze"
"UAV-kamikaze" is in many ways a conditional concept. The possibility of long-term loitering in the air and retargeting in flight can be given to other types of ammunition, for example, cruise missiles, but no one calls them UAVs. Theoretically, the boundary condition for loitering ammunition / kamikaze UAVs could be the reusability of UAVs, that is, the possibility of their return if no suitable targets for the attack were found, in order to refuel and reuse the UAV. However, in fact, many kamikaze UAVs are initially disposable.
Tomahawk Block IV and Block V cruise missiles are capable of loitering in the air, and the UHF satellite communication system allows you to re-target the missile in flight at any of 15 pre-programmed targets, having previously estimated the feasibility of hitting it with optical reconnaissance means of the Kyrgyz Republic
It is possible to divide the possibility of retargeting to pre-entered targets (as in the case of missiles of the Tomahawk type) and the possibility of direct target detection by the ammunition itself, but some ammunition that is not formally related to UAVs also have such capabilities. For example, anti-tank missile systems (ATGMs) of the Spike series of the Israeli company Rafael provide the ability to transmit images directly from the homing head (GOS) of the missile and to retarget it in flight.
Transmission of control commands and video images can be carried out over a two-way fiber-optic cable or over a radio channel. Such complexes can operate both in the "fire and forget" mode, and in the launch mode without preliminary target acquisition, when the ammunition is launched from behind cover at the approximate coordinates of a previously reconnoitered target, invisible by the ATGM operator, and target capture is carried out already in the flight according to the data obtained from the GOS.
Israeli ATGM Spike-NLOS
In general, according to some documents, Russia classifies UAVs as cruise missiles, making claims against the United States in the context of the Treaty on the Limitation of Intermediate and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty) in the sense that the deployment of medium and large UAVs (HALE and MALE), with a long duration and range flight, contradicts the terms of the specified contract.
In general, most likely, the use of the term "UAV-kamikaze", and not "loitering ammunition" was largely a consequence of marketing, as the prefix "nano" has become common in modern scientific and pseudo-scientific circles. In practical terms, the name is not so critical, the effectiveness of the ammunition is much more important, especially its compliance with the cost / effectiveness criterion.
If we are talking about the use of kamikaze UAVs against military equipment, then in this case the cost / effectiveness criterion will most likely be in favor of the attacking ammunition, since the cost of military equipment will always be an order of magnitude higher. Of course, there are extremely outdated military equipment, such as are used in some regions. tanks during the Second World War or ersatz-military equipment, such as "shaitan machines" - off-road vehicles equipped with a large-caliber machine gun / recoilless weapon / explosives and a pair of bearded men, but in this case, it is necessary to take into account not only the cost of the target, but also the potential harm that it could cause, for example, destroying "own" armored personnel carrier (APC) with infantry.
A variety of handicraft military equipment used by various illegal armed groups can cost less than the ammunition that hits it, but these costs can be much less than the damage that a destroyed "shaitan-mobile" can cause
Types of kamikaze UAVs
Kamikaze UAVs are mostly relatively compact models. It is economically unprofitable to make a kamikaze UAV of the HALE and MALE class. In fact, as mentioned above, it will be just an advanced guidance cruise missile. Yes, and it will be much more difficult for a large-sized UAV to approach the target for its direct destruction than to drop several inconspicuous small-sized guided munitions.
UAV kamikaze can be divided into two subtypes. The first type is an airplane-type UAV or UAV, which in design is close to the form-factor of a missile with cruciform wings of relatively large elongation.
One of the latest aircraft-type UAV solutions is the recently introduced Green Dragon UAV by the Israeli company Israel Aerospace Industries.
The mobile launcher (PU), which can be installed on an army vehicle HMMWV, houses 16 UAVs capable of automated detection and destruction of targets at a distance of up to 40 km with a loitering time of up to 1,5 hours. The mass of the Green Dragon UAV warhead is 3 kilograms.
Another example is, again, the Israeli kamikaze UAV Hero-30, which is launched using a pneumatic launcher. Thanks to its cruciform wings and an electric motor, the Hero-30 UAV is highly maneuverable. He is able to carry out low-altitude flight over difficult terrain, bend around obstacles. The loitering time is up to 30 minutes, the range is up to 40 kilometers at an altitude of up to 600 meters and a speed of up to 200 kilometers per hour. The total mass of the Hero-30 kamikaze UAV is 3 kilograms, of which the weight of the warhead is 0,5-1 kilograms.
UAV-kamikaze Hero-30 (it is easy to notice the similarity of the layout of the UAV Hero-30 and the ATGM Spike-NLOS missile)
The second type is a helicopter or quad / octa / hexacopter type UAV, reminiscent of commercial UAVs. For example, the promising Israeli kamikaze UAV of the Spike Firefly helicopter type (for the Israeli army it will be supplied under the name Maoz), equipped with two coaxial propellers, successfully passed military tests at the end of 2019 - beginning of 2020.
A distinctive feature of the Spike Firefly UAV is its reusability - the operator can issue a command to safely return the UAV to the launch site for its reuse. The Spike Firefly UAV weighs 3 kilograms, a height of 40 centimeters, a hull diameter of 8 centimeters, and a warhead weight of 350 grams. The ammunition is equipped with an electric motor and a battery that allows it to stay in the air for about 15-30 minutes. The range of the Spike Firefly UAV is about one kilometer. Detection and guidance of UAVs to mobile and stationary targets is carried out using an optoelectronic guidance system.
UAV Spike Firefly
The Canadian company AerialX has developed a quadrocopter-type kamikaze UAV AerialX designed to destroy enemy UAVs. The manufacturer positions the AerialX UAV as a hybrid of a rocket and a UAV, which has the speed of a rocket and the maneuverability of a quadcopter. This small-sized UAV with a takeoff weight of 910 grams has a range of up to four kilometers and a flight speed of up to 350 kilometers per hour. The AerialX kamikaze UAV can automatically approach the target and attack it from the optimal angle. The device is reusable, if the attack is canceled, it can be reused.
Application of UAV-kamikaze AerialX
Since 2017, the Turkish company STM has been producing kamikaze UAVs of the quadrocopter type "Kargu", and since 2019, a modified version of "Kargu-2" has been produced. The UAV weighs 15 kilograms, the maximum flight speed is up to 150 kilometers per hour. The UAV "Kargu-2" can be equipped with a fragmentation, thermobaric or cumulative warhead weighing up to 1,5 kg.
UAV-kamikaze "Kargu" can be controlled at a distance of up to 10 kilometers directly by the operator or in a semi-automatic mode, when the operator sets the search zone, and the UAV independently detects and destroys the target. In the near future, it is planned to provide group actions of UAVs of the Kargu type in a flock of up to 20 drones.
In 2020, the Turkish Ministry of Defense signed a contract for the production of 356 Kargu-2 UAVs.
UAV presentation "Kargu"
Russian UAV kamikaze
Russia is just beginning to catch up with the leaders of the UAV market, including the kamikaze UAV. At the moment, two UAVs are ready for serial production - "Cube-UAV" and "Lancet-3" by ZALA Aero.
UAV-kamikaze "Cube-UAV" can carry out destruction of the target according to preset coordinates, which greatly limits its capabilities. However, it is stated that the optical image can be transmitted from the payload placed on the UAV, the mass of which can reach 3 kilograms (it will also include the mass of the warhead).
The duration of the flight "Cube-UAV" is 30 minutes at a speed of 80-130 kilometers per hour, the dimensions of the UAV are 1210 x 950 x 165 millimeters.
A more modern and promising model is the Lancet-3 kamikaze UAV, conceptually reminiscent of the aforementioned Israeli Hero-30 UAV. Its range is up to 30 kilometers, the payload mass is 3 kilograms, with a total UAV weight of up to 12 kilograms. Loitering time up to 40 minutes at a speed of 80-110 kilometers per hour. UAV "Lancet-3" is equipped with a television communication channel, which allows the detection of targets and guidance of the UAV at them. The developer declares the possibility of self-detection of the UAV target.
Presentation of the kamikaze UAV "Lancet-3"
The degree of localization of Russian UAV components, such as communication, control and guidance system components, electric motors, batteries, etc., remains in question. If access to components can be limited by the introduction of new sanctions, then the prospects of Russian kamikaze UAVs may be questioned.
The role and place of the kamikaze UAV on the battlefield
What place will the kamikaze UAVs take and how will they affect the appearance of the battlefield?
It can be assumed that over time they will become an integral part of the armament of ground units, as mortars and ATGMs have become. They can be used both as a support weapon for infantry units and as an independent offensive tool. Kamikaze UAVs are capable of not only complementing the capabilities of mortars and ATGMs, but also replacing them in many cases. As mentioned above, the kamikaze UAVs themselves are in many ways conceptually similar to the conventional fourth generation ATGM.
It is difficult to overestimate the role of the kamikaze UAV for conducting reconnaissance and sabotage operations. It can be expected that in this capacity they will be used as intensively as possible by various illegal armed groups that make homemade kamikaze UAVs based on commercial models and individual components.
The carriers of the kamikaze UAV can be a wide variety of combat units - off-road army vehicles, trucks. And as additional weapons, they can be placed in containers on armored vehicles - tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, artillery systems, as now ATGMs are placed. Container placement options can be implemented in various weight and size versions - portable, transportable, car versions.
The Chinese system of salvo launch of UAV-kamikaze allows the transportation and launch of 48 loitering ammunition CH-901 from China Poly Defense
Presentation of the Chinese combat vehicle for the salvo launch of the kamikaze UAV
There is an opinion that the use of modern means of electronic warfare (EW) can completely paralyze the work of the UAV, blocking the communication channels and the satellite navigation system. UAV supporters, in turn, argue that modern communication channels are difficult to block, and the navigation system is even more complicated, and its noise immunity is constantly increasing.
In practice, the truth will be somewhere in between. Electronic warfare systems can really complicate the life of UAVs, but not completely paralyze their work. Moreover, the active means of electronic warfare themselves are an excellent target for specialized ammunition. The enemy can first "clean up" the electronic warfare means, and then strike the UAV.
The use of modern digital noise-immune transmitters, simultaneously operating in several wavelength ranges, with pseudo-random frequency tuning (PFC), will minimize the effect of electronic warfare equipment. Satellite navigation systems are supplemented by inertial ones, allowing the UAV, if not to strike, then safely return back, leaving the field of action of electronic warfare means. Intelligent navigation systems are being developed based on the analysis of terrain images, which are not affected by electronic warfare systems at all. All this sounds very "expensive", but in fact, with mass production, all this can be realized in the dimensions and at the cost of a modern smartphone.
For those who cannot afford effective systems for countering small-sized UAVs, including kamikaze UAVs, they can become a huge threat, which will be extremely difficult for the armies of the "past" to fight.
We will talk about the means of dealing with small-sized UAVs in general and kamikaze UAVs in particular in the following materials. Other areas of use of UAVs by ground units will also be considered.