Unmanned aerial vehicles of the armed forces of Ukraine
Unmanned aerial vehicles have long been used in the military for surveillance, reconnaissance, artillery adjustment and strikes against ground targets. However, in the armed conflict in Ukraine, the use of UAVs has assumed an unprecedented mass character. In addition to specialized military drones, in the course of hostilities, civilian devices are very actively used. In combat, both mini-versions weighing from 300 g and multi-ton rocket launchers are involved. Civilian models are actively used both in urban battles and in trench battles. Often, the information obtained with the help of unmanned aerial vehicles was critical in preparing ambushes for armored vehicles. UAVs often work in conjunction with a tank or artillery crew. To destroy targets on the battlefield or in the front line, the opposing sides use loitering "kamikaze drones". UAVs of the middle class, armed with guided munitions, are capable of hunting for armored vehicles and light watercraft. There are also examples of how the Ukrainian side used Soviet-made heavy reconnaissance jet UAVs as cruise missiles.
Due to the fact that the range of commercial models available to the Armed Forces of Ukraine is very wide, this publication will consider the most popular drones, as well as the vehicles, the use of which caused the greatest resonance. Today we will talk about models originally intended for use in the civilian sector, and light-class military UAVs that were available in the Armed Forces of Ukraine as of mid-2022. In the second part of the review, we will talk about loitering ammunition, armed mid-range drones and jet reconnaissance UAVs converted into cruise missiles.
The use of civilian copters in combat operations
According to Western sources, the Ukrainian armed forces operate about 7000 drones to date. Most of these drones are civilian models, usually modified for use at the front. The most common "quads" are usually able to spend no more than 40 minutes in the air and have a range of 5-7 km from the launch site. The minimum cost of models suitable for use at the front is in the range of $1500. A valuable quality of lightweight civilian drones is that they can be easily carried by one person in a travel case.
Most often, Chinese DJI devices are used in hostilities. Although often there are copters of the Chinese company Yuneec International, the American Autel Robotics and the German XDynamics.
Due to the fact that during an armed conflict, the restrictions imposed by manufacturers to ensure the safety of commercial drones (avoiding dangerous maneuvers, collisions, closed zones) turn out to be unnecessary and often severely limit the combat potential, in most cases the software of drones undergoes a flashing. Another reason to “dig into the brains” of a quadrocopter is the active use by the opposing sides of DJI AeroScope alien drone detection stations. In a wearable version, this equipment is capable of detecting more than 30 drones in the air at a distance of up to 5 km. The detection range of the transportable version is 30-35 km, and the number of air objects has been increased to fifty. The station determines and records the following parameters: copter location, flight direction, speed, altitude, route, coordinates and distance to the operator, copter ID. It is clear that, having such data at your disposal, it becomes much easier to organize counteraction to an enemy drone and deliver an accurate artillery strike on the position of the Ukrainian operator.
The tactics of using reflashed civilian drones is very simple. The operator, support team and the device itself are most often delivered to the front line in an off-road vehicle. Drones detect targets and transmit their coordinates to artillery batteries in real time. They are also used to correct fire and bombardment.
For strikes on ground targets, copters are suitable, which, in addition to their equipment, can lift additional weight. For example, the minimum carrying capacity for the delivery of an RGD-5 grenade must be at least 500 g.
The grenade itself weighs 310g, plus the weight of the release device. Also, very often modified 30-mm VOG-17 grenades with a stabilizer printed on a 3-D printer are used for ground strikes.
The mass of ammunition obtained from the converted VOG-17 is 285 g. Such a grenade is highly likely to hit openly located manpower within a radius of up to 5 m.
On large quadrocopters, attempts were made to mount American disposable rocket-propelled anti-tank grenade launchers M72, and 82-mm and even 120-mm mortar mines were suspended.
Drones with such a load can create big problems for soldiers in the trenches and on the battlefield, as well as destroy light field fortifications and fight armored vehicles. So, a 66-mm M72 cumulative grenade can penetrate 350-mm homogeneous armor. An 82-mm mine weighs 3,31 kg and is equipped with 400 g of TNT and effectively hits growth targets within a radius of 30 m. Especially dangerous are 120-mm high-explosive fragmentation mines weighing 16 kg, equipped with 3,9 kg of TNT. When such a mine breaks, the radius of destruction by fragments of uncovered manpower reaches 60 m. light dugouts, and with a direct hit it can disable a tank.
More lifting compared to the "quadcopters" are devices with six (hexacopter) and eight (octocopter) propellers. For example, the Ukrainian company Aerorozvidka assembles R18 octocopters from imported components, which cost about $20.
The exact characteristics of the R18 were not disclosed, but it is known that it is able to stay in the air for 40 minutes. According to publicly available information, the standard load is two RKG-1600 anti-tank cumulative bombs, created by altering RKG-3EM hand-held anti-tank grenades.
This cumulative ammunition is capable of penetrating the relatively thin upper armor of a modern tank. A cumulative grenade weighing just over 1 kg contains 600 g of explosives and, when hit at a right angle, overcomes homogeneous armor more than 250 mm thick.
The Chinese DJI Matrice 30T is very popular. Although this model is not cheap for a civilian drone (AliExpress asks $14 for it), it has advanced features.
Quadcopter DJI Matrice 30T
This quadcopter, in addition to standard options, has a thermal imaging camera and a laser rangefinder. This device can work in bad weather conditions and with a sufficiently strong wind - up to 15 m / s. Because batteries drain faster in cold weather, the Matrice 30T has automatic battery warming when operating or charging. The operating temperature range is from -20 to +50 °C. Take-off weight - 3770 g. Folded dimensions - 365x215x195 mm. Flight time - 40 min. The maximum flight speed is 82 km / h.
Unmanned vehicles of the light class, which were available in the Armed Forces of Ukraine until February 24, 2022
One of the most common unmanned systems of the Armed Forces of Ukraine before the start of a full-scale conflict was the A1-SM "Fury". The drone itself and the control equipment were developed by the Kyiv NPP Atlon Avia in 2014, and by the end of 2021 more than 100 complexes were delivered to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The cost of one set was estimated at $150. Most of the details of this complex were produced outside of Ukraine.
The complex includes three drones, three day and two interchangeable reconnaissance modules at night, a ground control and information processing station, antennas and additional equipment. The operator has two monitors at his disposal. One is needed to track the course, speed and current position, with coordinates tied through the GPS positioning system. The second monitor is designed for real-time monitoring through an optical camera. The drone uses a GPS module and an inertial system to navigate. Management and transmission of information is carried out via noise-protected digital channels. Target coordinates are determined with an accuracy of up to 20 m, with the possibility of auto-tracking. It is possible to adjust the fire of several artillery batteries.
The ground station is powered and the batteries are charged from a 3 kW gasoline power generator. All equipment of the complex is in impact-resistant suitcases, transported by road and deployed in about 15 minutes.
The UAV itself is made according to the “flying wing” scheme, the glider is made of fiberglass. The take-off weight of the device is 6 kg. Wingspan - 2 m. Flight range - up to 200 km, while the "Fury" can move away from the control point by 50 km. Cruising speed - 65 km / h. Maximum - up to 130 km / h.
In 2019, the MP-1 Spectator unmanned system entered service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The complex was developed at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute, and production was carried out at Meridian OJSC named after S.P. Korolev. By February 2022, more than 30 complexes were delivered to the customer. The complex consists of three UAVs and a set of ground equipment.
A wing span of 3 m and two batteries with a capacity of 16 A / h each provide a flight duration of 2 hours. The length of the device is 1,295 m. The take-off weight is 5,5 kg. The electric power plant can accelerate the device up to 140 km/h. The range from the control station is up to 30 km. Ceiling - up to 3000 m.
The improved Spectator-M1 modification, in addition to the day one, is equipped with a night thermal imaging camera. Video transmission control controllers have been replaced - they are now digitally encoded. Additional frequencies for controlling the vehicle and broadcasting a video signal have been added, with switching according to a given algorithm, which increases resistance to electronic warfare. The "Spectator-M1" has an integrated system for automatically determining the coordinates of the target. The transmission range of the picture is up to 35 km.
The upgraded version of the drone is equipped with batteries of a larger capacity, which increased the duration of stay in the air up to 3 hours. The maximum flight range is 200 km.
One of the most modern APU drones is the Leleka-100, created by the Ukrainian company DeViRo. The adoption of this drone into service took place in May 2021.
The Leleka-100 UAV is equipped with a pusher propeller that rotates an electric motor. The hull and wing are made of fiberglass and carbon fiber. The length of the apparatus is 1,135 m. The wingspan is 1980 mm. Weight - about 5 kg. Maximum speed - 120 km / h, cruising - 60 km / h. The time spent in the air is up to 2,5 hours. The guaranteed length of the route is 100 km. Ceiling - 1500 m. Depending on the time of day and the specific task, the drone is equipped with cameras of various types. Signal transmission range - up to 50 km.
The Leleka-100 UAV is controlled via an encrypted digital radio channel, which makes it possible to receive telemetry data throughout the flight. The operator can track the location of the drone on satellite maps, correct the route, issue a command for an emergency return to the take-off point, or, if necessary, program another landing site. Even with the suppression of the radio data exchange channel, the device is able to continue autonomous flight, return and land at a pre-programmed point.
The broadcast of the video signal from the UAV is carried out in coded form, which makes it difficult to intercept. It is stated that the complex is adapted to work in a difficult jamming environment and can work when satellite navigation systems are blocked.
In 2018, at the parade in Kyiv, an unmanned aerial vehicle complex was demonstrated aviation reconnaissance PD-1.
PD-1 UAV on HMMWV vehicle
The complex, created by UkrSpecSystems, includes a drone with an internal combustion engine, equipped with a USG-212 gyro-stabilized platform with a high-resolution television camera and a thermal imager, a vehicle for moving around the area and a portable control station. Remote control of the drone occurs at a distance of up to 85 km. A television image can be received at a distance of up to 50 km from the station.
Gyrostabilized platform USG-212
Although the complex does not shine with high noise immunity, when suppressing control channels, data transmission and satellite navigation systems, the device continues to fly along a predetermined route. In this case, inertial navigation equipment is used, and the image is recorded on a removable media.
A drone with a wingspan of 3 m in running order weighs 33 kg. Maximum speed - 140 km / h. Cruising speed - 90 km / h. Ceiling - 2000 m. Flight duration - 5 hours.
Foreign experts note that already at the time of its appearance, the PD-1 UAV could not be considered modern, but at the same time it is quite capable of solving the tasks. A major disadvantage is the high visibility in the thermal range, which is due to the use of a gasoline engine. For this reason, this Ukrainian unmanned reconnaissance vehicle is vulnerable to MANPADS.
In connection with the urgent need for military UAVs, even before the start of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, FlyEye UAVs and control equipment were purchased. This drone made its first flight in 2010 and is produced by the Polish company WB Electronics.
Launch of FlyEye UAV
The FlyEye UAV is made of composite materials according to the high-wing scheme. The aircraft is hand-launched and does not require any additional launch devices. Its curb weight is 11 kg. Wingspan - more than 3 m. Maximum speed - 160 km / h. The range of the control station is up to 50 km.
The first four FlyEye devices were used by the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the east of the country in 2014. How many UAVs of this type Ukraine received is unknown. Apparently, we can talk about dozens of units. The right to carry out warranty and post-warranty maintenance of the Fly Eye UAV in Ukraine, on the basis of relevant agreements with the manufacturer, was received by Chernigov PJSC CheZaRa. It is reported that Polish drones have proven themselves well, and they are quite resistant to the effects of electronic warfare.
Light reconnaissance and surveillance UAVs received in 2022
During large-scale hostilities, the Ukrainian armed forces lost most of the specialized UAVs available until February 2022, designed for reconnaissance, monitoring the battlefield and adjusting artillery fire.
The shortage of specially designed drones capable of operating at a distance of several tens of kilometers from the control station was partly offset by the massive use of civilian copters on the front lines. But already in May 2022, the Armed Forces of Ukraine signed a number of contracts for the supply of military-style UAVs with a total value of more than $8 million. As of August 2022, $20 million had already been collected for these purposes. Contracts for the supply of UAVs to the Armed Forces of Ukraine were concluded with Skyeton, SKIF and Ukrjet.
The UJ-22 AIRBORNE UAV from Ukrjet is one of the largest drones created in Ukraine. It is positioned as a multi-purpose platform capable of operating around the clock and carrying various payloads, such as reconnaissance and surveillance equipment, as well as fragmentation and cumulative munitions.
UJ-22 AIRBORNE UAV
The drone with a takeoff weight of 86 kg is equipped with a two-stroke gasoline engine. Length - 3300 mm, wingspan - 4600 mm. Maximum speed - 180 km / h, cruising - 120 km / h. The flight duration is more than 8 hours. Practical ceiling - 6000 m.
UAV and payload control is carried out in automatic, semi-automatic and manual modes. Communication between the ground control station and the aircraft is carried out via digital encrypted two-way channels.
Workplaces for UJ-22 Airborne UAV operators
The control equipment, the antenna-mast device and the power generator are placed on a cross-country vehicle.
The UJ-22 AIRBORNE UAV can communicate with a ground station at a distance of up to 120 km. In an autonomous programmable mode, the device is capable of conducting reconnaissance, deepening beyond the front line for several hundred kilometers.
At the exhibition "Weapon and security - 2021 ”was presented by the UJ-22 Airborne UAV with two suspended 82-mm mortar mines. Dropped cumulative munitions created by reworking PG-7 rocket-propelled anti-tank grenades were exhibited nearby.
It is reported that a drone controlled by an operator can search for moving targets and deliver aimed strikes at them. When bombarding stationary objects with known coordinates located at a considerable distance from the control station, the programmable mode is used, and navigation is carried out according to the signals of the satellite positioning system. If the return of the device is not provided, the range of its action in the strike version is 800 km.
The military upgraded version of Skyeton's Raybird-3 UAV is known as the ACS-3. The whole complex is transported in four containers. It takes less than 20 minutes to start up.
The power plant of the ACS-3 UAV is a single-cylinder four-stroke gasoline engine with a volume of 40 cm³ and a power of 3,8 liters. with. The device with a curb weight of 23 kg carries up to 5 kg of payload. Wingspan - 2960 mm. Flight altitude - up to 3500 m. Maximum speed - 140 km / h, cruising - 120 km / h. The flight duration is 18 hours. The flight range under the control of the ground station is up to 220 km, but the signal is relayed by another aircraft. Without relaying, the remote control range does not exceed 160 km. At a greater distance from the station, the device follows a pre-programmed route. The maximum range is 1000 km.
Culver Aviation supplies drones to SKIF. The basic model, made according to the “flying wing” scheme, has a wingspan of 1,5 m and a take-off weight of 3,8 kg. Flight range - 130 km. This electric drone is able to stay in the air for 2 hours and reach speeds of up to 70 km/h. The maximum flight altitude is 1500 m.
Initially, SKIF was developed for land monitoring and mapping for the benefit of farmers, commercial companies and government organizations. But due to the fact that this device turned out to be suitable for monitoring the battlefield and close reconnaissance, it is currently used by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In August 2022, the purchase of 80 UAVs of this type was announced.
The device, modified for the use of military tasks, when suppressing the control channel in the conditions of active electronic countermeasures, goes into radio silence and collects intelligence information offline. The return to the launch point occurs according to the signals of the satellite navigation system.
Among the drones used by the Ukrainian army, the H10 Poseidon II UAV deserves special mention, which is produced by Swarmly, a company registered in Cyprus. Apart from the unique circuitry, it also stands out for its price. The cost of one apparatus with a set of ground equipment exceeds €300.
UAV H10 Poseidon II
The maximum takeoff weight of the H10 Poseidon II is 22 kg. The unmanned aerial vehicle can carry a payload of up to 3 kg. Poseidon is equipped with a camera with a 40x zoom, which allows you to observe from a great height and adjust artillery.
The maximum takeoff weight of the Poseidon is 22 kg. Length - 1,9 m. Wingspan - 3,5 m. Payload - 3 kg. Maximum speed - 100 km / h, cruising - 75 km / h. The communication range with the base station is up to 150 km. Flight altitude - up to 4000 m. Flight duration - 2 hours. Maximum hovering time - 15 minutes. The drone can take off and land vertically and, thanks to the presence of redundant channels, is protected from enemy electronic warfare stations.
To be continued ...
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