Russia’s Predator-Like Drone Is Now Shooting Down Other Drones (2023)

Russia has been testing its Orion unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in a ‘drone-killer’ role, using a new variant of an existing guided missile to shoot down a rotary-wing target drone during trials in Crimea. The Russian Ministry of Defense has claimed the experiment proves that the Predator-like Orion drone is now capable of engaging other drones in combat, part of a broader effort to introduce various new weapons capabilities to this and other Russian UAVs.

Video of the test campaign was released recently by the Russian Ministry of Defense and was apparently first shown as part of a documentary on the state-owned Russia-1 TV channel. The Orion drone — also known by the project name Inokhodets, meaning Pacer in Russian — is shown firing a new air-launched version of the 9M113 Kornet anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) against the helicopter drone, serving as the target. The report states that the two drones began around 60 miles apart and the target was engaged at a distance of around 2.5 miles.

The basic Kornet ATGM uses laser beam-riding guidance and requires manual control to take it to its target. The air-launched version reportedly also has infrared and TV-guided modes although it’s not clear if these are used for missile guidance or simply to help the operator detect and track targets and the process by which the drone operator initially finds the target remains unknown. A related report from Russia’s state-run media outlet RIA Novosti suggests the same missile can also be used from the Forpost and Altius UAVs.

A maintainer works on a missile launcher for the Kh-BPLA under the wing of an Orion drone., RUSSIA-1/YOUTUBE SCREENCAP

The Orion is typically fitted with a turret that mounts electro-optical and infrared cameras, as well as a laser target designator to deliver guided weapons against targets on the ground. The footage suggests that a pilot in the ground control station uses these sensors onboard the drone to initially acquire the target and then command a missile launch.

The penetrating jet of the missile’s HEAT warhead is visible immediately prior to impacting the drone target., RUSSIA-1/YOUTUBE SCREENCAP

More details about the air-launched Kornet missile appear in the RIA Novosti report, which quotes an unnamed source in the military-industrial complex. The source says the missile — designated Kh-BPLA — has completed “dozens of successful tests” from the prototype Ka-52M attack helicopter. The same source attributed a maximum range of 6.2 miles to the missile and said it can destroy both low-flying, low-speed aerial targets as well as armored vehicles. In fact, a version of the Kornet with an anti-aircraft capability already existed. The 9M133FM-3 was developed to provide ground troops and vehicles with a means to defeat UAVs, helicopters, and other low-flying threats and it appears to be this model that has now been adapted for air launch.

Previous reports had indicated that a version of the Vikhr-M missile would be tested on the Orion drone, but it’s unclear if those plans have been superseded or if both missiles will be employed from the UAV.

Repurposing an ATGM for air-to-air use is not altogether unheard of in Russia, with an earlier iteration of the Vikhr also having been used by the Su-25 attack jet to down an unmanned Tu-16 bomber. This remained purely experimental, however, and the Vikhr was never adopted for service as a Su-25 weapon.

(Video) Russia’s Predator-Like Drone Is Now Shooting Down Other Drones #shorts

An air-to-air version of the Vikhr ATGM shoots a Tu-16 bomber converted as a target drone:

As for the rotary-wing target drone used in the test, this appears to be an example of a type developed by CSTS Dinamika, a division of Russia’s Technodinamika Group. This UAV, developed specifically as a target, bears a strong resemblance to the Austrian-made Schiebel S-100 Camcopter and was unveiled last year. So far, the designation of this drone has not been revealed.

Three of the rotary-wing target drone UAVs at the exercise range in Crimea., RUSSIA-1/YOUTUBE SCREENCAP

In one sequence in the latest Russia-1 report, Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov, the head of the Russian General Staff’s Office for UAV Development, says the Orion drone can shoot down the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 and other UAVs. The TB2 has been widely heralded as a game-changer in recent conflicts in Syria, Libya, and between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Most significantly, it has also been operated in combat by Ukraine, a country with which Russia has been deeply embroiled in conflict since 2014.

It is, therefore, more than just a coincidence that the latest missile test took place in Crimea, an area that Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014 and which has since been the focus of renewed military activity, from amphibious landing drills to anti-ship missile exercises.

Russian officials pointing to the specific ability of the Orion to now shoot down TB2 drones seems to be intended as a very clear signal to Ukraine. But it is also just as relevant to potential export customers of the Orion, to counter not only the TB2, which Turkey keeps finding new customers for but also other similar drones, and to more generally provide competition for them on the export market.

In the past, we have looked more broadly at the significant military potential offered by the Orion UAV, which had previously been used to test air-launched weapons in an air-to-ground role, including during combat trials in Syria in 2018.

However, the launch of air-to-air missiles, or at least dual-role weapons with the ability to hit targets in the air as well as on the ground, seems to further point toward the Orion moving toward operational capability. Until now, the Orion program has had some problems, including rejection of the first examples by the Russian Ministry of Defense due to “additional requirements that were not originally included in the technical specification.” There have also been at least one crash and difficulties in securing a reliable Russian-made powerplant.

(Video) Russia Tests Orion UAV To Shoot Down Drones In Crimea l Why This Is A Clear Message To Ukraine

At the same time, these kinds of capabilities will only make the export-configured Orion-E version even more attractive to foreign customers, especially those who face a threat from enemy UAVs.

As we have pointed out in the past, there is little in the way of direct U.S. competition to the armed Orion or the TB2, although China does offer a range of similar capabilities for export. In the case of Chinese-made drones, however, there have been high-profile problems relating to these and their serviceability.

With a gross weight of around 2,250 pounds and an endurance of up to 24 hours, the Orion is broadly similar to the MQ-1 Predator, sharing a long, straight wing and pusher-propeller propulsion. The U.S. Air Force has retired the MQ-1, and it is no longer in production.

Employing a drone to engage low-flying, low-speed drone target is still very much a niche capability, although in the past helicopters have been adopted for this mission by some operators. Israel, in particular, has used its AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to down hostile UAVs, also using Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, the agility and low-speed handling of the rotorcraft making it a good match to intercepting even smaller drones.

However, there have only been a few examples of engagements involving drones as the launch platforms for air-to-air missiles in any conflict to date.

The U.S. Air Force began work in this direction at least as early as 2003 when it armed MQ-1s with the air-to-air version of the heat-seeking Stinger missile to provide a degree of protection against Iraqi jets. You can read more about that effort here. Since then, the U.S. Air Force has used its MQ-9 Reaper to launch an air-to-air missile, firing an AIM-9X Sidewinder against a maneuvering target during a test in November 2017.

Iran, meanwhile, has reportedly used its Karrar UAV as an “interceptor drone” to destroy aerial targets during exercises. While imagery has been released showing the Karrar launching the Azarakhsh missile, which was originally claimed to be a combination anti-tank and short-range surface-to-air weapon, there does not appear to be any conclusive evidence that missiles fired by Karrar drones have actually hit any targets.

Otherwise, developments in the field of drones with air-to-air capabilities are increasingly focusing on more sophisticated platforms, like the U.S. Air Force’s loyal wingman-type drones as well as programs like LongShot, which aims to field an aircraft-launched drone equipped with its own air-to-air missiles to engage adversary aircraft.

All in all, these developments indicate just how seriously Russia is taking its efforts to arm its new drones with a wide array of ordnance for both air-to-ground and now air-to-air missions. After lagging behind the United States, China, and other countries in developing modern drones of any kind, Moscow seems to be focusing its attention not only on filling niches in terms of size and performance — the Orion and Okhotnik being good examples of this — but also providing novel weapons capabilities for them. It remains to be seen, however, whether these ambitious technologies fulfill their promise.

While the Russian military budget may not be enough to sustain all these programs in the long term, it’s possible that some, at least, could win export orders. After all, Russia has an extensive list of existing arms customers, less restrictive export conditions than the United States, and a track record of using creative financing to help secure sales of military equipment.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com

FAQs

Can Ukraine shoot down Russian drones? ›

Despite the hurdles, the Ukrainian military is now routinely shooting down more than 70 percent of the Shahed-136 drones Russia purchased from Iran in August, Yuriy Sak, an adviser to the Ukrainian minister of defense, said in an interview. Ukraine shot down the first such drone in the country's east on Sept.

Does Russia have killer drones? ›

The Shahed drones that Russia has rebranded as Geran-2 are packed with explosives and are preprogrammed to loiter overhead until they nosedive into a target — reminiscent of Japan's World War II-era kamikaze pilots who would fly their explosive-laden aircraft into U.S. warships and aircraft carriers during the war in ...

How many Russian drones shot down in Ukraine? ›

On Monday, Russia attacked Ukraine with 43 drones, of which 37 were destroyed, a spokesperson added. Starosiek said the low flight path of the drones made it difficult, for ground defences to pick them up and that “drone catching” technology was required to further improve the rate of destruction.

Does Russia have drone missiles? ›

Russia was first reported to have used a Shahed-136 drone on 13 September, attacking targets near Kupiansk, a city in the Kharkiv region in the east of the country.

Can Ukraine shoot down drones? ›

Ukraine's forces have shot down more than two-thirds of the approximately 330 Shahed drones that Russia has fired through Saturday, the head of Ukraine's intelligence service, Kyrylo Budanov, said in an interview Monday.

Does Ukraine have killer drones? ›

The Ukrainians themselves have been using kamikaze drones to strike against Russian targets – and asked their allies to supply them with more of these deadly weapons.

How much does a Switchblade drone cost? ›

Firing one Switchblade 600 would cost more than $10,000, while firing one Javelin anti-tank missile would cost around $78,000. This shows clearly why these drones are better cost-effective than missiles. This is why Ukraine is building its own DIY drones.

What is a Switchblade drone capable of? ›

Equipped with class-leading, high-resolution EO/IR gimbaled sensors and advanced precision flight control, Switchblade 600 empowers the warfighter with quick and easy deployment via tube-launch, and the capability to fly, track and engage non-line-of-sight targets and armored vehicles with precision lethal effects ...

Does Ukraine still have drones? ›

Ukraine still uses advanced military drones supplied by its allies for observation and attack, but along the front line the bulk of its drone fleet consists of off-the-shelf products or hand-built in workshops around Ukraine — myriad inexpensive, plastic units adapted to drop grenades or anti-tank munitions.

How many drones has Ukraine shot down? ›

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Axios his country's military has shot down 260 Iranian-made drones used by Russia in the war in Ukraine.

Does Ukraine have kamikaze drones? ›

'Loitering munitions'

These are what is known as “loitering munitions” – so-called because they can wait in the air to identify the target before smashing into it. Hence the nickname, kamikaze drones. Ukraine has been using several types of loitering munition since the start of the conflict.

Which country makes the best drones? ›

The United States and Israel are the biggest producers and sellers of drones. America's leading combat drone is the MQ-9 Reaper, manufactured by General Atomics, which the Air Force has used to support operations around the world for over a decade.

How many military drones has Russia? ›

Technology. The Russian military operates a fleet of about 500 drones. Russian officials stress that short-range drones are the most needed in the armed forces. While the development of advanced drones obviously poses a significant technological challenge toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.

How many fighter drones does Russia have? ›

Russia, which has 1,500 to 2,000 military surveillance UAVs, has relatively few attack drones of the type that can precisely strike targets deep inside enemy territory.

Can you shoot guns in Ukraine? ›

Gun Control Law. Regulation of private firearms in Ukraine is categorised as permissive. Rifles and shotguns are allowed for hunting, target shooting, collection, protection of person or property and private security.

Is Canada supplying drones to Ukraine? ›

The Prime Minister announced that the additional $500 million for further military aid to Ukraine announced in Budget 2022 has begun to roll out with approximately $50 million commitment to provide high-resolution satellite imagery, an additional 18 drone cameras and ammunition.

Can a Switchblade drone take out a tank? ›

The larger Switchblade 600 - the one soon heading to Ukraine - is a next-generation loitering missile that's able to destroy armoured targets like tanks, but can still be set up and operational in less than 10 minutes, according to AeroVironment.

How many kamikaze drones does Russia have? ›

That is the job of the Switchblade 600, which features a warhead specifically designed for anti-personnel and anti-armour. The Shahed 136 kamikaze drones used by Russia are also thought to be much less sophisticated than the Harop loitering munitions that were used to great effect in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

What is a Switchblade missile? ›

The AeroVironment Switchblade is a miniature loitering munition, designed by AeroVironment and used by several branches of the United States military. Small enough to fit in a backpack, the Switchblade launches from a tube, flies to the target area, and crashes into its target while detonating its explosive warhead.

How lethal are Switchblade drones? ›

It carries an explosive Northrop Grumman advanced munition large enough to kill a group of soldiers in close proximity, but not big enough to do much damage to Russian tanks. Once the Switchblade is airborne, it has a range of approximately 10 km and can stay airborne for about 15 minutes.

Can drones destroy tanks? ›

Let's first address how drones are used to attack and destroy tanks. One basic method is to equip drones with gravity bombs or turn the drone into a miniature kamikaze-like weapon. Since they are relatively small, such drones are able to sneak up on unsuspecting tanks and hit them when they might be most vulnerable.

How far can a Switchblade drone go? ›

The Switchblade 600 drone weighs 50 lbs. and fly for more than 40 minutes, with a range of about 25 miles. It has a cruising speed of 70 mph and top speed of 115 mph, and it was designed for strikes on soldiers and tanks.

What country makes Switchblade drones? ›

The Switchblade is produced by Californian company AeroVironment, which makes the U.S. military's tactical reconnaissance drones.

What is Phoenix Ghost drone? ›

The Phoenix Ghost is a small aerial loitering munition (explosive drone) designed by US company Aevex Aerospace. According to a senior US defense official, it is broadly similar to the AeroVironment Switchblade. Aevex Phoenix Ghost. Type. Loitering munition.

Does Russia have kamikaze drones? ›

The U.S. government has examined the wreckage of Iranian-made drones shot down in Ukraine, deepening its insight into the unmanned craft that Russia has launched in a spate of kamikaze attacks on the country's critical infrastructure, according to two U.S. officials. Are you on Telegram?

How much does a Switchblade 300 drone cost? ›

The selling price is $4,000. Switchblade 300 American-made ammunition. The US delivered a quantity of Switchblade 300 to the Ukrainian armed forces a few months ago. From the published ad on the dark web, it can be seen that the drone is based in Kyiv.

Can kamikaze drones destroy tanks? ›

"A modern kamikaze drone, equipped with a powerful explosive, flew straight into the tank, causing irreparable damage to the enemy," Ukraine said on Facebook. Ukraine said the footage was captured by a camera on the drone. It added that the Russians operating the tank were killed.

Can the US use drones to help Ukraine? ›

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. for the first time Friday said it will give Ukraine Scan Eagle surveillance drones, mine-resistant vehicles, anti-armor rounds and howitzer weapons to help Ukrainian forces regain territory and mount a counteroffensive against Russian invaders.

What kind of bombs do drones drop? ›

They can conduct aerial bombing by dropping hand grenades, mortar shell or other improvised explosive munitions directly above targets. Payloads could include explosives, shrapnel, chemical, radiological or biological hazards.

Who donated drones to Ukraine? ›

Turkish Weapons Maker Baykar to Donate Three Armed Drones to Ukraine. A Turkish weapons maker said Monday that it agreed to donate three new armed drones to Ukraine in response to a crowdfunding campaign, after the aircraft were instrumental in Ukraine's resistance to Russia's invasion.

How much does an Iranian drone cost? ›

Shaheds-136 loitering munitions each cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

Can Gepard shoot down drones? ›

The GEPARD in air target engagement

The dual 35mm automatic cannons can reliably counter anything from attack helicopters and combat aircraft to drones.

Does China have kamikaze drones? ›

Chinese-made drones have been used extensively to combat extremism outside of China, but the Chinese military has avoided conducting lethal strikes themselves.

How many drones does the US have? ›

UAV stocks by country
COUNTRYSERVICENUMBER
USAMarines32
USAMarine Reserves4
USAAir Force101
USAAir Force73
53 more rows
3 Aug 2012

Who is supplying Russia with drones? ›

Iran Acknowledges Supplying Drones to Russia - WSJ.

Does US have stealth drones? ›

While the USAF has released few details on the UAV's design or capabilities, defense analysts believe that it is a stealth aircraft fitted with aerial reconnaissance equipment.
...
Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel.
RQ-170 Sentinel
Introduction2007
StatusIn service
Primary userUnited States Air Force
Number built20 to 30
4 more rows

Which country has most military drone? ›

Percentages
CountryValue
China151
Pakistan113
Russia100
Iran83
43 more rows

What are killer drones? ›

They are known as suicide drones because they nosedive into targets and explode on impact like a missile. That's reminiscent of Japan's World War II-era kamikaze pilots who would fly their explosives-laden aircraft into U.S. warships and aircraft carriers.

Does Russia have its own drones? ›

The Russian arms industry has worked hard to produce its own domestic modern military drones. But the showpiece of Russia's modern drone production—the ORAN-10 surveillance drone—might be domestically assembled, but the guts are from all over the place.

How fast are Russian drones? ›

The maximum speed of the drone is reportedly 1,000 km/h while carrying its payload internally. The aircraft bears some visual resemblance to RQ-170.

How good are Iran drones? ›

The drones have a reported range of up to 1,500 miles, meaning they can be launched far from the front. But they are also slow-moving, noisy and fly at a low altitude. Britain's Ministry of Defense said last week that those characteristics make them “easy to target using conventional air defenses.”

How many Iranian drones does Russia have? ›

"They will probably be reverse-engineered and used in future wars," the source said. For its part, Iran supplied Russia with more than 160 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including 100 Shahed-136 drones, the source claimed.

How many missiles can a drone carry? ›

It can carry as many as 16 Hellfire missiles or other weapons like the Dillon Aero M134D-H minigun. With a load of 12 Hellfires and a 1,600-foot runway, the drone could provide special forces with fire support for as long as nine hours.

How many Punisher drones does Ukraine have? ›

Kyiv has around 20 Bayraktar TB2 drones, built by the Turkish military. Relatively cheap and effective, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been their number one salesman, securing deals with around 15 countries around the world.

Does Russia have drones over Ukraine? ›

With its army losing ground to Ukraine's counteroffensive, Moscow has started to deploy drones to attack Ukrainian targets. According to Ukrainian military officials, “kamikaze drones” are cheaper and less sophisticated than missiles but have proved effective at causing damage to targets on the ground.

How many TB2 drones does Ukraine have? ›

Ukraine has bought more than 20 Bayraktar TB2 armed drones from Baykar in recent years and ordered a further 16 on January 27.

What is a ghost drone Ukraine? ›

Ukraine has received thousands of drones from the US to help fight Russian forces. Among them are hundreds of Phoenix Ghosts, a drone developed by the US to attack targets. Little is known about the Phoenix Ghost, and there have been few glimpses of it in Ukraine.

Who donated the drones to Ukraine? ›

Drone Donation

Ukrainian TV host Serhiy Prytula crowdfunded $20 million to buy Bayraktar drones for the nation's defense against Russia. Baykar, a Turkish defense manufacturer, turned down the money and opted instead to donate three military drones to the country.

How much does a punisher drone cost? ›

By combat drone standards, these are remarkably cheap as well. The aforementioned Bayraktar TB2 has a price tag of approximately $2 million, but each Punisher drone comes in at just under $200,000.

How many Shahed drones Russia has? ›

Russia has ordered 2,400 Iranian-made Shahed drones from the Islamic Republic, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday.

Does the US have defense against drones? ›

The Army is the U.S. Department of Defense's executive agent for counter-UAS work and the Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office, created in 2019, works closely with the other military services to shape requirements.

What happens if Ukraine nuclear plant gets bombed? ›

The area around the plant has silos of nuclear waste, and the surrounding soil could release radiation if disturbed, de Bretton-Gordon said. “If this did catch fire or blow up, the contamination is unlikely to be isolated to Ukraine,” he said. “It is likely to impact the whole of Europe — and Russia as well.”

Why is TB2 so effective? ›

The TB2 is an effective, low-cost platform that can be produced with commercial, off-the-shelf parts, which drives down cost and makes maintenance affordable for many countries.

Who supplies drones to Russia? ›

The Islamic Republic has at last admitted it has provided drones to Russia claiming that they were sent to Russia months before the Ukrainian war.

Is Turkey a drone superpower? ›

In the last few years, Turkey has emerged as a drone superpower. It is one of the four leading countries in the world to produce, use, and export armed drones.

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