Weapons: Another Loitering Munition Goes To War

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December 19, 2017: In late 2017 Poland has ordered a thousand Warmate UAVs at a cost of about $28,000 each. Developed and made in Poland Warmate is delivered as a system package. Each one consists of ten 4 kg (8.8 pound) Warmate UAVs together with ground controllers, maintenance and training material. The first of the hundred Warmate systems to be delivered are going to Polish Special Forces and the new territorial defense units by the end of 2017 while the remainder of the Warmate order will be delivered by the end of 2018 and that will include distribution to several key army units.

Unlike similar small UAVs Warmate can use an explosive warhead and become an expendable cruise missile type weapon. Normally Warmate is used for surveillance and can be reused dozens of time. Warmate is carried and launched (with a pneumatic assist) from its box like storage container. The electric motor gives Warmate a top speed of 150 kilometers an hour (41 meters a second). Endurance is 30-50 minutes and normal altitude is 300-500 meters. Range is line of sight and 10-12 kilometers from the operator. The control and video transfer signal is encrypted and Warmate can operate autonomously along a preprogrammed route (using GPS/INS) to deal with jamming.

Warmate can operate in combat mode by adding a 300 g (10.5 ounce) warhead. There are several types of warhead; fragmentation (fragments deadly up to 10 meters), armor piercing (up to 12cm of armor) or thermobaric. While useful against armored (or unarmored) vehicles Warmate would be most useful against snipers or other targets that are a danger and can quickly move if spotted. The fragmentation warhead could be highly effective because Warmate could be flown through a window cave/bunker entrance and kill everyone in a room. Warmate could also disrupt an ambush.

The idea of UAVs used as mini-cruise missiles isn’t new. Israel and American troops have been using such “loitering munitions” for years. Israel has Harpy and the Americans began with Switchblade in 2009. This was a one kilogram (2.2 pound) expendable (used only once) UAV that can be equipped with explosives. The Switchblade is launched from its shipping and storage tube, at which point wings flip out, a battery powered propeller starts spinning and a vidcam begins broadcasting images to the controller. The Switchblade is operated using the same gear the larger (two kg/4.4 pound) Raven UAV employs. A complete Switchblade system (missile, container, and controller) weighs 5.5 kg (12.1 pounds). Switchblade was very popular with troops in Afghanistan and with SOCOM (Special Operations Command) in all sorts of places they won’t discuss in detail. Swithblade was a very popular combat tool and was followed by an improved version as well as a larger second generation LMAMS UAV.

Poland provided neighbor Ukraine with some Warmate systems for use against Russian forces in Donbas. Warmate performed quite well against the Russians. Warmate proved very hard to detect and destroy in flight. That was because if used for an attack shooting down a small target like Warmate (coming in at 41 meters a second) was very difficult. The Russians had effective electronic warfare systems for remotely controlled UAVs but were not able to use them effective against Warmate, even in attack mode. Warmate is very cheap to produce and cost effective especially in light of the Ukraine experience. --Przemysław Juraszek

 


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