To combat drones, anti-aircraft systems of the future are being created, by Alexander Timokhin for VZGLYAD. 07.06.2023.
How should an air defense system be arranged against a swarm of kamikaze drones.
Russian drones - especially loitering ammunition - have become one of the most powerful means of destroying armored vehicles of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the sky of a special operation. However, the same devices, and of a new generation, are being actively created in the West. This threat seems to be fully realized, and special anti-aircraft systems are being created in the country to deal with them. What do they look like and how can they be made even better?
At the end of June, an extremely interesting combat vehicle was shown at the International Youth Industrial Forum "Engineers of the Future - 2023" in the Tula region. So far, apparently, a prototype, if not a layout. We are talking about a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (ZSU) based on the BTR-82A, but with a new gun mount. The very appearance of such an armored vehicle shows that the Russian military-industrial complex has matured on the whole the right course to create new means of combating enemy UAVs.
Fighting vehicle and unmanned threat
First, about the installation itself. The base chassis is the BTR-82A, but the weapons are different. A weapon mount is installed on the vehicle, which has two 23-mm 2A7 cannons, previously used in a quad version on the Shilka ZSU, which was once a thunderstorm for low-flying aircraft. The combat vehicle is equipped with a radar station (radar), and in front of the turret there is a surveillance and panoramic system from JSC "NTC Elins" in a hemispherical case, apparently to provide the ability to detect a target without turning on the radar.
On top of the turret itself, there is an optical-electronic sighting system of an unknown type. Media reports claim that the machine is designed to destroy unmanned aerial vehicles. It is worth considering it from this point of view.
Firstly, the guns that this ZSU is equipped with are distinguished by a high rate of fire and density of fire. This can even bring down a quadrocopter. And the combined guidance through both radar and optical channels allows you to detect and hit the drone from a long distance. The base chassis of the armored personnel carrier greatly simplifies the development of the vehicle in the army, since the chassis is almost the same as the armored personnel carrier. The presence of optical detection systems allows you to "not glow" - not to detect yourself, including the radar for radiation, which can be like death in a war with an enemy who has electronic intelligence. In addition, the optical channel is insensitive to radio interference.
Does the army need a purely barreled air defense system (now there are either missile or rocket-gun systems in service)? Yes, it's very necessary.
In contrast to the wars of the past, small drones, both reconnaissance and attack ones, showed themselves massively in the same SVO. Quadcopters turned out to be incredibly important, primarily for reconnaissance. And these are very small products, which are impractical to shoot with missiles. Machine guns do not finish off, and it is often impossible to aim - the target is too small and too far away.
And in the wars of the future, kamikaze drones like our Lancet will appear massively, but used many times more massively, kamikaze copters like the Turkish KARGU or FPV drones that are now being massively used. And the most unpleasant thing is autonomous kamikaze drones operating as part of a swarm, without external control. Such a swarm acts like a swarm of bees - the drones are able to adapt in attack to the actions of other drones in the swarm, as a result, the strike group is actually self-governing. While flying in a given area, the drones themselves, without a command, massively attack everything that is recognized as a target.
Now such systems are on the verge of mass production in the United States. They are followed by China. No missiles will be enough to repel such attacks. And if they are not reflected, the number of personnel losses in the attack area will be in the hundreds of people per minute, and no trenches will save.
Today, at the front, to combat drones, so-called anti-drone guns are used, which are actually directed emitters of electromagnetic waves that can disrupt drone control. The problem is that the operator of such a gun is a visible target for enemy electronic intelligence, and therefore for artillery. There are software ways to deal with enemy drones, but their applicability is very limited.
Most likely, in the near future, the communication systems used to control drones, and their future resistance to interference, will make it impossible to combat them with the above methods. This is a question for several years. It is artillery systems that are the only thing that can fight the future unmanned threat.
The second reason why a return to anti-aircraft artillery is necessary is the so-called SDB - Small diameter bombs, bombs with a small diameter. These are ordinary gliding precision bombs, but small in size. Due to its small size, even one medium combat aircraft can carry dozens of such bombs and drop them in one gulp. Theoretically, air defense systems could shoot them down if the guidance systems allow, but again - no missiles will be enough.
The VZGLYAD newspaper has already written about the threat of a swarm of loitering ammunition and how to deal with it. Let's get a quote. “There is only one way to stop them - by creating and maintaining a fragmentation field of such density on their combat path that they cannot pass through it ... In five or six years, the commander of a company tactical group marching in a column will suddenly find a couple of hundreds of suicide drones heading for his armored personnel carrier or infantry fighting vehicle, and the Russian Armed Forces need to learn to repel such attacks now. Technically, Russia is capable of preparing for this, but it needs to be done, the problem will not disappear by itself.”
So, we have, in fact, the first explicit attempt by the Russian military-industrial complex to create an anti-aircraft system capable of withstanding a group of loitering ammunition. However, it is immediately clear what and how could be improved in this sense.
Fly in the ointment and repetition of the past
First. With a caliber as small as the 23mm and guns without programmers (and for 23mm there are no programmers for guns or projectiles in Russia for 23mm), this new ZSU will have a very high ammunition consumption per target. And the smaller the target, the more you will need to shoot to hit it.
With the massive use of at least copters by the enemy, such installations will shoot the ammunition load almost instantly. What is needed for an anti-aircraft artillery installation to be effective? Firstly, the possibility of using projectiles with a programmable detonation. Then the shells are blown up near the target, generating the same fragmentation stream, and not hitting the target with direct hits. This is how Rheinmetall's Skynex anti-aircraft gun works, for example, with a 35-mm automatic cannon and programmable detonation projectiles.
Secondly, to form a fragmentation flow, fragments themselves are needed, the source of which is the material of the projectile body and the explosive inside. The more metal and explosives, the more fragments, and this requires a large projectile - for example, 57 mm.
The value of developments in caliber 30 mm is primarily that it is theoretically possible to equip an infantry fighting vehicle or armored personnel carrier with a data receiver, with the help of which an armored vehicle will receive target designation for firing at an air target. And then a 30-mm projectile with a programmable detonation will make it possible to shoot down drones not only for special anti-aircraft installations, but also for any armored vehicle. Including the one that is fighting right now. Almost everything in the Ground Forces shoots in 30 mm caliber, from armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles armed with cannons to Tunguska and Pantsir.
Of the 57-mm systems, the Ground Forces now receive only the old AZP-57 anti-aircraft guns developed back in the 1950s from the S-60 complex. These guns are used in the NWO for shooting at ground targets in the absence of more modern weapons.
But there is another 57-mm system - the 2S38 combat vehicle of the anti-aircraft artillery system, created as part of the Derivation-Air Defense development project. This machine has just such a projectile that is needed, it is assembled on the BMP-3 chassis, it has a guidance system that does not unmask itself with radiation. Testing the machine is slow and difficult. But it is this installation that is closest to what will be needed in the future, and not a 23-mm ZSU based on an armored personnel carrier.
As for this machine, we see another opportunity to improve it. In light of the nature of the threats on the new ZSU, it is worth moving away from a pair of 23-mm cannons to one 30-mm, but with a programmable detonation of shells and an increased ammunition load. For all the insufficiency of the 30-mm projectile, such a solution would be more effective than the 23-mm one.
On the other hand, JSC "STC Elins" should pay close attention to the AZP-57 guns from storage. They have much better prospects for modernization than the ZU-23. Since the 2S38 is on endless trials, you can try to work on the AZP-57. Moreover, a special vehicle for combating drones has long been required by the Russian Armed Forces. The future, which has been predicted for quite a long time, is almost here.