Video: Ukraine Is Adding Anti-Aircraft Missiles to its Suicide Drones

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07-May-2024

Ukraine’s intelligence service has claimed a hit on yet another Russian Navy vessel using its Magura V5 suicide drone. The device has damaged or sunk multiple Russian warships over the last year, and the agency – known by its initials, GUR – said that it added another to the tally over the weekend. 

This time, the target was smaller: a Russian high-speed coastal patrol craft. The drone navigated to the target zone in Uzka Bay, an inlet in northwestern occupied Crimea, and maneuvered sharply to dodge fire as it approached the patrol craft. The video shows it approaching the stationary target at high speed, and the feed cuts out at the moment of contact. Russian authorities have not acknowledged the strike, and the attack could not be immediately confirmed. 

Separately, videos released by Russian forces appear to show that Ukraine is experimenting with drone-mounted antiaircraft missiles. As Russia has increased the use of fighter and helicopter patrols to intercept the suicide drones in the Black Sea, this defensive armament could be a useful development, if it could be brought to bear successfully. Stills from the Russian footage appear to depict a Soviet-era R-73 Archer air-to-air missile mounted on a rail atop the drone, canted upwards and facing forward. 

In this encounter, the arrangement was not enough to defend the drone from the Russian helicopter aircrew. The helicopter stayed to the side or astern of the drone, out of the missile’s potential field of view for target acquisition, and eventually destroyed it with an automatic cannon. One rail atop the drone was empty, suggesting that it may have already attempted to target the helicopter with one missile. 

Open source analysts noted that the R-73 is a basic, old-fashioned infrared seeking missile design. It does not require an external targeting system in order to be launched successfully: its own guidance is enough to find, lock onto and engage the target. This could potentially make it a simple addition to Ukraine’s drone platform as a bolt-on, fire-and-forget weapon that the operator could trigger via satellite interface. 

The addition of a targetable weapons system is a major development in and of itself. Up until this point, the drone only functioned like a guided torpedo: the operator would attempt to maneuver it into the hull of the target ship, causing the explosive payload to detonate on contact. A secondary onboard weapons system could make the drone reusable, and create new possibilities for round-trip missions. 

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