In Ukraine, Russia has introduced Strizh-3, a new anti-UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle or “drone”} system. Strizh-3 is an improvement on earlier, similar systems. The major shortcoming of all these systems is short range. Strizh-3 system has a range of 1,500 meters (nearly a mile) and works by detecting and jamming control signals and video feeds to and from hostile UAVs. Two or more Strizh-3 systems can be used to expand the area defended. Ukrainians quickly learned that the Russians were using some new electronic defenses against UAVs and have had to take that into account when using UAVs for surveillance or attacks. In the last year UAVs have been heavily used by both sides. During that period Russia lost over 2,000 UAVs while the Ukrainians lost about half as many. Ukraine designs and builds several of its own UAVs and receives a lot more from NATO countries.
Systems like Strizh-3 can be neutralized by sending in UAVs against targets without the use of a remote operator. The UAV simply goes where its guidance system is programmed (with GPS coordinates) of where to go. Strizh-3 is generally used to disrupt UAV surveillance missions. Some UAVs will automatically return to where they were launched if the control signal is disrupted. The Ukrainians have access to NATO satellite and aerial surveillance resources, but that does not replace the use of UAVs in the combat zone that are looking for targets that can be attacked immediately.
Russia has been using Strizh-3 since late 2022 and some were captured by Ukrainian forces when Strizh-3 systems were set up close to the front line. Each Strizh-3 unit is set up on a tripod and requires regular battery replacement or recharging. Use of Strizh-3 near the front lines can be a major advantage for the Russians because the Ukrainians regularly use small UAVs, often dramatically cheap commercial quadcopters, to locate Russians troops and then call in artillery fire or use improvised small bombs dropped by larger quadcopters. Systems like Strizh-3 are in big demand by Russian troops, but the supply of these UAV jammers is limited and those used on the front lines are at risk of detection and destruction by the Ukrainians because they working by emitting jamming signals which can be detected at distances greater than the effective range of their jammers.
Strizh-3 is particularly effective against loitering munitions. Ukraine has received hundreds of Switchblade loitering munitions and some of the larger Switchblade 600s. Ukraine uses the smaller 2,5 kg (5.5 pound) Switchblade 300s and larger 600 to find and then attack targets. These are not reusable weapons. The Switchblade was introduced in 2020. It is the latest version of the original Switchblade loitering munition that appeared in 2011. While the original Switchblade weighed a kilogram (2.2 pounds), the latest Switchblade is ten times heavier at 23 kg (50 pounds), can stay in the air for 40 minutes and be controlled up to 80 kilometers from the operator. Top speed is 180 kilometers an hour and more economical cruise speed is closer to 150 kilometers an hour. The heavier warhead can destroy most tanks, although some modern tank designs include protection from top attack. The 600 can be carried into a remote area and used quickly.
Switchblade 600 was requested by the U.S. Army for longer range surveillance missions and the option to hit specific small targets, like a building or enemy position. Unlike the earlier Switchblades, the 600 uses a tablet controller with more options, including manipulating the more powerful vidcam carried. Video transmitted back to the operator can be saved and passed on. The operator also has a “wave off” feature in which a quick tap on the controller screen can cause the 600 to abort an attack and be available for another try. The 600 can also be programmed to carry out a mission without operator control. This means there is no control signal for enemy electronic warning systems to detect or jam. In this case when time is up the 600 self-destructs. This guidance option is the only one that can get past the Strizh-3 jamming.