Air Weapons: Improvised Precision Weapons


February 7, 2023: Ukrainian recently released a video showing the successful use of improvised precision munitions combining a large quadcopter carrying a grenade equipped with plastic fins produced by a 3-D printer dropped into a T-72 with an open hatch. Other targets included Russian trenches, foxholes and even the sun roof of a car. Ukrainian troops have been using such improvised precision munitions since early in the war, and have improved these cheap short-range systems ever since. Conventional munitions like Switchblade are a lot more expensive and not reusable like the quadcopter delivered explosives. Ukrainian forces use small, locally made fixed-wing UAVs to find targets vulnerable to a quadcopter attack. Early in the war Ukrainian troops used smaller quadcopters to drop smaller explosives on nearby Russian troops and these systems went on to use larger explosives that could drop larger explosives on vulnerable targets,

These improved precision munitions do not replace larger, manufactured systems like GLMRS or GPS guided 155mm shells, but do serve to make life uncomfortable and uncertain in the combat zone. Ukrainians were not the first to use such weapons. Islamic terror groups have used quadcopters for surveillance and, when carrying explosives, as guided bombs. American troops were often on the receiving end and obtained their own quadcopters to equalize the surveillance capabilities. When U.S. troops asked for the government to buy them more of these, they were turned down because most were Chinese made and it was feared that China could develop ways to take control of them on the battlefield. There are commercial systems available to disrupt the communications link between these quadcopters and their users. These devices were developed and sold to keep civilian targets, like airports, safe from unwelcome quadcopter intrusions.

American troops are forbidden from obtaining and using these quadcopters but the troops sometimes go ahead and get them anyway. This is nothing new. During the American Civil War, the American army refused to buy repeating rifles because they used too much ammunition. Some units bought them anyway and used these repeating rifles to great effect. In the 21st century there are a lot more inexpensive but useful items the troops can buy and use on the battlefield.

The Ukrainian use of quadcopters dropping explosives is good for Ukrainian troop morale and even more demoralizing for Russian troops who have no similar weapons and rarely buy their own quadcopters because that’s not how things are done in the Russian army. Ukrainian troops have developed other improvised systems for combat use, including longer range explosive armed UAVs and USVs for use at sea to attack Russian ships or carry out long-distance airstrikes. The Russians have a hard time detecting or shooting down such attacks on targets far from the combat zone. Russian detection and defensive systems are designed for use against conventional air threats and often fail against the Ukrainian improvisations.


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