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What might future wars look like?
What might future wars look like?

The wars of the near future are unlikely to be similar to what we see in science fiction films. The sky will be covered with solid smoke, like the battlefields during the Napoleonic wars, flocks of predatory drones will fly over the smoky veil, tracking their prey, the atmosphere will sparkle from the work of electronic suppression systems, and soldiers with machine guns may disappear as a class. The main targets will be drone operators and control centers. If people stay there at all.

Below is the AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma, a small reconnaissance drone equipped with optical and thermal imaging cameras that can perform target designation functions for loitering ammunition. Modifications with solar panels installed on the wings are now being tested, which will increase the flight duration to 9 hours.


Last year, the American film Angel Has Fallen was released. The film itself is a set of old clichés, but it is interesting to watch it from the 19th to the 23rd minute, which shows the attack of a flight of drones on the President of the United States and his guards, leaving no chance for modern means of defense.

There is really no protection yet, but such drones already exist. In essence, this film is a luxury advertisement for the Switchblade compact loitering attack drones, designed by the American company AeroVironment back in 2012.

The very idea of ​​loitering ammunition - drones with a warhead capable of hovering over the battlefield, searching for and hitting targets - came to the mind of the British in the late 1990s.

The first such instance - Fire Shadow - performed its demonstration flight on April 30, 2008 and attracted the attention of military journalists only. The four-meter Fire Shadow resembled rather a small cruise missile, was expensive and could not boast of real combat use. But he gave impetus to a whole series of compact drones, performing roughly the same functions for much less money, as, for example, the Israeli Harop, which has shown its effectiveness in local conflicts.

Aerovironment switchblade

AeroVironment Switchblade The most famous (though not the most effective) American disposable attack drone, or kamikaze drone. Light weight (2.7 kg) and a convenient tubular launch container make it the personal weapon of an infantryman. The wings unfold already in the air. Range - up to 10 km, flight duration - up to 10 minutes.

The finest hour of Israeli killer drones is the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. It is no secret that the Azerbaijani army is actively using Israeli attack drones, and there are tons of videos from their cameras on the Web. The Armenian Defense Ministry has acknowledged the loss of 14 tanks in the conflict. Almost all of them were hit by kamikaze drones and patrolling missiles right in the shelters.

Scheme of attack on surface targets

Second generation

The first generation loitering munitions were essentially reconnaissance drones with a warhead. With all the ensuing consequences - large dimensions, complexity of control and cumbersome installations for starting. Now the second generation is on the way, presented by the American Switchblade from AeroVironment and Coyote from BAE Systems.

The former have a mass of only 2.7 kg, a range of 10 km and a maximum speed of 110 km / h, the latter - 6.4 kg, a range of 35 km and a maximum speed of 120 km / h. The US Army has allocated $ 76 million for procurement of the Switchblade, with shipments expected to begin this fall.

The launch containers of the second generation loitering ammunition are comparable in size to disposable grenade launchers, but have incomparable accuracy and range. In addition, one person is enough to launch.

Moreover, the carriers can be both soldiers and any light vehicles and ground platforms - there are already containers with six loaded Switchblades.The ammunition has been tested in local conflicts and has proven itself well, so we can safely call them the first signs of a new type of war.

Remote control RQ-20 Puma

RQ-20 Puma remote control

Of course, such ammunition is being actively developed by Israel, China, Russia and Turkey, which has recently become one of the five leaders in this technology.

The Turkish defense company STM (Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik) is already producing Alpagu loitering ammunition weighing only 1.9 kg and a range of 5 km, and a new version of Alpagu Block II is ready with characteristics that have been improved by half. Much less is known about Chinese developments due to the traditional closed nature of the country, but at all exhibitions they quite actively demonstrate the cases and components of these devices.

It is unlikely that the country - home to the DJI civilian compass drone market leader - has the resources and technology to manufacture such weapons.


But so far, such ammunition is used alone. A qualitative leap will occur when they get the opportunity to act in a swarm, as was shown in the film "Angel Fall".

This technology is very close to the final implementation: just look at the numerous videos on the Internet, in which world records for controlling drone flocks were shot. The leaders in this technology are the USA, where the defense agency DARPA is especially active in this area, and China with the state corporation Norinco.

The drone swarms include various devices - from reconnaissance UAVs to shock and loitering ammunition. They are controlled by artificial intelligence systems, and operators only assign targets. These systems are only being tested and did not participate in hostilities, but there is no doubt that this is a matter for the near future.

AeroVironment Quantix

AeroVironment Quantix is ​​an interesting UAV scheme - a tailsitter that performs vertical take-off and landing. With a length of 72 cm and a meter-wide wingspan, it can stay in the air for about 45 minutes.

How to deal with them

At first glance, a flock of cheap drones seem invulnerable. Experts agree that this technology will completely change the nature of military conflicts, but no one can say for sure how. “The same as the coronavirus,” says our interlocutor, General Director of ZALA AERO Alexander Zakharov. - Everyone knows about him, but no one has seen, and it is not known what will happen next. All forecasts are adjusted for “if” or “maybe”. But one can speculate about the invulnerability of this weapon.

Whatever the group applications, the group needs communication - optical or radio. If the exchange in the group is disrupted, it will lead to a failure. Therefore, the value of electronic warfare systems increases many times over.

Please note that if ten years ago there were enough open materials about the technology of electromagnetic weapons - for example, shock-wave and explosive-magnetic generators (EMG) of frequencies, now you will not find such articles in the afternoon with fire: the topic has again become closed and secret. But an explosion of ammunition with a VMG warhead in a flock of drones is likely to bring it down to the ground.

Aerovironment nano hummingbird

AeroVironment Nano Hummingbird 19 gram nanodron prototype equipped with a video camera. The flight duration is still limited to minutes, the payload - grams, but the direction of thought is clear.

Another relatively cheap and old way of fighting is smoke, which has long been used to protect against precision weapons such as tanks. Targeting small assassin drones is still carried out with optical or inexpensive thermal imaging heads, for which smoke is an unsolvable problem, and radar homing is still worth crazy money.

And you can destroy not drones, but their operators. For example, Israeli researchers from Ben Gurion University have demonstrated a technology based on deep neural networks that can calculate the coordinates of operators using only the trajectory data of drones.At a speed of attack drones of about 100 km / h, there is a margin of time left for the destruction of the operator by a missile or artillery strike.

STM Alpagu

STM AlpaguTurkish hit of disposable attack drone. It has an autonomous control system, improved image processing algorithms, advanced artificial intelligence, improved video surveillance systems and a choice of different types of explosives.

But experts look at systems based on super-powerful lasers with skepticism: it is enough to cover the drones with ordinary foil, as the effectiveness of this weapon drops sharply even when attacked by single drones, not to mention flocks.

Not a wonder weapon

Unmanned aerial vehicles will undoubtedly change and are already changing the methods of war, but they do not write off other types of weapons. They have many weak points. For example, small combat units that are only suitable for destroying a weakly defended enemy. Terrorists can only be seen as targets in commercials.

The most delicious target is openly standing unarmored military equipment, best of all aviation. Any small hole in a helicopter or airplane can cause damage. A military aircraft costs from $ 20 million, so the efficiency factor of using cheap drones can exceed 100.

STM Alpagu

Again, flight time and range are limited. The same Switchblade flies for 10-15 minutes and at a distance of up to 10 km. Not half an hour, not an hour, not 500 km.

Nevertheless, the technology is developing rapidly: the flight time, and the power of warheads, and the range, and, most importantly, autonomy are growing. “Ideally, such things will not keep in touch at all,” says our interlocutor, “and they will not emit anything. He flies autonomously and searches for himself. And this is the worst thing. Such a drone cannot be detected with radar, and the probability of detection is close to zero."

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