Almost simultaneously, in May of this year, two significant events took place in the drone world. The Turkish company Turkish Aerospace Industries held a pompous presentation of the Simsek kamikaze drone (“Lightning”), which has a significant novelty in relation to this type of ammunition. There was also a report that the Russian company Zala Aero, part of the Kalashnikov corporation, is creating a new type of kamikaze drone that will have an interceptor function. And this, one might say, is a sensation. Because for a long time, the Russian Ministry of Defense treated loitering ammunition, such as kamikaze drones, with a fair amount of indifference, which negatively affected the development of this area of military equipment in the country.
Despite the fact that the Turkish company Baykar Makina, with its Bayraktar attack drone, can be said to have crushed the global information field, more significant achievements in this industry belong to the serious aerospace company Turkish Aerospace Industries, which creates airplanes, helicopters and spacecraft.
The scale of this well-known company is completely different. It is enough to consider at least one unmanned vehicle – TAI Aksungur. It is a reconnaissance and strike drone, reaching a length of 12 meters, with a wingspan of 24 meters. The maximum take-off weight is 3300 kilograms. Payload – 750 kilograms. The flight characteristics are also impressive: ceiling – 12,200 meters, maximum range – 6,500 kilometers, flight time – 40 hours.
Has six suspension points. Able to work with eight different guided munitions. And if Bayraktar is a tactical drone, then this one is a strategic one.
It took Turkish Aerospace Industries 12 years to create the Simsek loitering ammunition. Mainly because development has evolved in a zigzag fashion. In 2009, they began to create a high-speed, turbojet-powered target for testing air defense systems, as well as air-to-air cruise missiles that were launched from fighters. But then they switched to loitering ammunition.
“Dozens of companies have begun the development and subsequent production of loitering ammunition, since they are more effective than artillery to solve the problem of suppressing dispersed targets.”
At the same time, for all 12 years, the company remained silent about its new development. And only last month, the general director of Turkish Aerospace Industries Temel Kotil, rather sparingly, without technical details, told about the creation of the Simsek loitering ammunition. The warhead weighs five kilograms. The flight range is 100-200 kilometers. Possesses high maneuverability. Has a significant speed, at least transonic, which is predetermined by the use of a turbojet engine. The drone is capable of hitting stationary ground targets without the participation of the operator. In the future, it is planned to refine it, which will allow it to hit moving targets.
But the main advantage of this ammunition is that it has an unmanned vehicle that delivers Simsek to the air launch site. This is a very significant point, because loitering ammunition, by virtue of its concept, has an insignificant range. And 200 kilometers of the Turkish “Lightning” is absolutely uncharacteristic for kamikaze drones.
The carrier is the TAI Anka reconnaissance and strike drone, produced by the same Turkish Aerospace Industries. Its flight radius reaches 250 kilometers when controlled from a ground station. In the case of using satellite communication channels, according to the manufacturer, the range can be unlimited. In reality, here, too, the radius is limited by the fuel supply and is equal to 2400 kilometers. Thus, when adding the ranges of the Anka and Simsek UAVs, the range is from 450 to 2600 kilometers.
The Anka booster drone has eight suspension points, at which it is capable of carrying eight guided missiles or four gliding bombs with a total weight of 200 kilograms. Thus, it is capable of delivering at least four Simsek ammunition to the air launch site.
It is assumed that Turkish Aerospace Industries will produce up to one hundred of these promising loitering ammunition per year.
We were late at the start
The Kalashnikov concern, after successfully testing the loitering ammunition created by its subsidiary Zala Aero in Syria, announced its determination to promote them to the foreign market. The desire, of course, is quite natural. But how feasible is it?
Now in Russia there are only three kamikaze drones. And they are all Kalashnikovs. Domestic designers took up this topic, as mentioned above, with a great delay, and now the world market is filled with loitering ammunition, as they say, for every taste and wallet.
The first such complexes were attempted in the 70s by several American and European companies, among which was the mighty Boeing. But it turned out to be a false start – the aviation and navigation technologies that existed at that time did not allow achieving the required accuracy of launching kamikaze drones on the target.
The world’s first kamikaze drone Harpy (“Harpy”) began to be produced in the early 90s by the Israeli company Israel Aerospace Industries. It is still being produced. Designed to destroy enemy air defense radar complexes. It is loaded with 93 kilograms of explosive and is capable of circling in a given area for up to three hours, waiting for the radar transmitter to turn on, after which it dives at the transceiver antenna.
At the end of the 90s, a boom in this field of military equipment began. Dozens of companies have begun the development and subsequent production of loitering ammunition, since they are more efficient than artillery to solve the problem of suppressing dispersed targets. Moreover, they simultaneously act both as scouts, choosing a target in free flight, and as ammunition, with which neither barrel nor rocket artillery can match in accuracy. At the same time, kamikaze UAVs are much cheaper than high-precision missiles. They also have other advantages. For example, minimizing the defeat of the civilian population in connection with pinpoint and maximum aimed strikes. And yet – since they replace combat missions of aviation, the risk of loss of personnel among the pilots is excluded.
For quite a long time, since the end of the 2000s, loitering ammunition has been in service with a number of armies of the world – Israel, the USA, Turkey, Great Britain, France, Germany, China, Poland …
Moreover, their artisanal production has already been mastered by a variety of non-governmental paramilitary groups. They have been used many times in Iraq and Syria. And in 2019, the Houthi attack with the help of kamikaze drones reached the oil terminals of Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia. As a result, the world oil market was in a fever for almost a month.
Let us name only a few aircraft-type loitering ammunition (there is also a helicopter one), which at the end of the last decade began to be supplied to the armies of their countries.
Coyote (USA) was created by Raytheon. It reaches 90 centimeters in length, with a folding wing span of 1.5 meters. The takeoff weight is 6 kilograms, of which 2.3 kilograms are in the warhead. Able to stay in the air for up to two hours at an altitude of 150-300 meters. The flight range is determined by the radio horizon, which allows you to control the drone at a distance of up to 70 kilometers when the Coyote is at 300 meters.
Poly Defense Chinese ammunition CH-901 weighing nine kilograms has a length of 1.2 meters. It is able to stay in the air for up to two hours, being at a distance of up to 10 kilometers from the operator at altitudes from 100 to 1500 meters.
The MS-03, a joint development of Singaporean and Chinese companies, is one meter long and weighs six kilograms and has a range of 10 kilometers. Able to stay in the air for 25 minutes. Warhead weight – 1.5 kilograms.
ALPAGU BLOK II of the Turkish company STM has a warhead weighing 2.5 kilograms. The flight time does not exceed 20 minutes, the radius is up to 10 kilometers at a speed of 120 kilometers per hour.
Polish ammunition GiezWarbleFly company MSP is equipped with one of two removable warheads – high-explosive fragmentation or tandem cumulative. Takeoff weight – 6 kilograms, length – 1.35 meters, wingspan – 1.65 meters. It can fly at altitudes of 50-250 meters within 25 minutes.
All these drones have a lot in common – about a meter in length, a mass within 10 kilograms, and a 10-kilometer range. Only the “American” is able to fly a greater distance.
Kalashnikov assault rifle
Three Russian loitering ammunition from the Zala Aero company, which has already become a traditional meter in length and weighs several kilograms, fits into the same concept. First, the “Cube” appeared, and a year later, last year, the UAVs “Lancet-1” and “Lancet-3” were tested. Moreover, all of them were tested in real combat conditions at the “Syrian training ground”.
The mass of the warhead of the “Cuba” and “Lancet-3” is three kilograms. “Lancet-1” is smaller – with its own weight of five kilograms, it has a kilogram warhead. Traditional launch – ejection. At a speed of 80 to 130 kilometers per hour, they hover in the air for up to half an hour. The working range is 30-40 kilometers.
All three ammunition are equipped with television and thermal imaging cameras, which are used to direct the drone operator to a target, both stationary and mobile. A coordinate system is used to combat stationary targets.
The advantages of the Kalashnikov loitering ammunition include increased secrecy. It is quite understandable that they are made of radio-transparent composite materials; this is a general trend. But they, according to the developers, are practically silent due to the use of an electric motor. Thus the glider “Cuba” has the shape of a bird. And it moves in the sky like a bird, except that it does not flap its wings. Although there is a special mode that simulates the flight of birds.
The Lancet has a more complex aerodynamic profile – a longitudinal biplane with two pairs of X-shaped wings. The Kalashnikov loitering ammunition has a different flight profile. They can fly up to the target at a height of three to four meters, bending around the terrain. They can attack from a height of 4.5 kilometers – this method is used when attacking tanks in the least protected upper projection.
According to the test results, the military were satisfied with both the “Cube” and the “Lancets”. In this connection, their serial production is expected. But not only for supplies to the Russian Armed Forces, but also for promotion on the foreign market. And this is quite real. For example, the American newspaper Washington Post responded with an enthusiastic article to the Lancets exposition at the IDEX 2019 international arms exhibition. It was written in black and white that the Lancets were a modern Kalashnikov assault rifle and their developers had revolutionized the world of weapons. To some extent, it is so. The Zala Aero drones are reliable, easy to operate, effective on the battlefield and compare favorably in price to expensive Western designs.
Assessing the prospects of this weaponry direction, it should be noted that the subsidiary company of the Kalashnikov concern is rapidly developing and implementing bold technical ideas. As mentioned above, information was received about the creation of a new loitering ammunition, which should be intercepted by enemy drones. And above all, kamikaze drones, since they are the ones that are capable of causing the most harm to the troops. Although, of course, it can be a deep modernization of one of the “Lancets”. Apparently, we are talking about “Lancet-1”, since here a large explosive charge is not required.
Details are not reported – it is only known that the destruction of enemy drones will take place with the help of a remote detonation of a warhead equipped with a large number of fragments.
In addition, the Zala Aero offers a completely new tactic – “aerial mining” of large areas. To do this, loitering ammunition in flight is lined up in a matrix with a step that does not allow enemy drones to overcome this “minefield”. When attempting to break through this dynamic defense, the intruder is inevitably undermined by loitering ammunition.
The idea, of course, is great. And very relevant, since the time is approaching when technically highly developed countries will begin to use swarms of kamikaze drones. And in this case, shooting off individual elements of the swarm will not stop the attack. It is precisely the reliable mining of the airspace that is needed.
All this looks extremely impressive on the animation video of the Kalashnikov company. However, the theory must be confirmed by practice. Only after the comprehensive tests of the “air minefield” have taken place, it will be possible to say that this beautiful idea is workable.