Small drones are a thorny problem for militaries looking to secure their airspace.
Cheap costs, small radar profiles, and the high price of existing anti-aircraft missiles mean irregular forces can harass uniformed military from the sky, without a ready countermeasure on hand. Russia, whose forces have faced attacks from irregular groups using drones in Ukraine and Syria, is experimenting with a range of approaches. On March 12, Russia’s Federal Service for Intellectual Property posted the registration of a novel counter-drone drone, an unmanned aerial interceptor vehicle built around a rifle.
This still-unmanned interceptor is a tail-sitting drone. With two rotors, it can take off and land vertically, and then level off to fly horizontally, the lifting rotors now working as propellers. It has a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, a total weight of around 51 lbs, and a total flight time of 40 minutes. The flight time is short for vehicles of its size but longer than that of the cheaper commercial quadcopters that are its likely targets.
Once it gets close to those targeted drones, the interceptor is built to fire shells from the Vepr 12 shotgun (a variant of the AK rifle series) built into its fuselage.
If the design seems like something dreamed up in a dorm room, that’s not entirely far off. The origins of this interceptor date back to the work of a student design bureau in 2016, which created at least one prototype of the vehicle. The interceptor patent was granted to the Almaz-Antey defense corporation, which has been pursuing the design ever since.
“This CUAS drone is in line with in increasing number of technologies and designs created to combat hostile drones,” says Samuel Bendett, an adviser at the Center for Naval Analyses. “Russians think that it’s important to fight adversary drones not just from the ground via a number of electronic and kinetic countermeasures, but in the air itself. Hence this rifle drone joining the Carnivora cUAS drone.”
The interceptor joins a whole range of new Russian counter-drone tools. The aforementioned Carnivora drone is built to launch nets and explosives at hostile drones from the sky. Other designs, like an anti-air gun turret on the back of a technical-inspired ATV, are about brute forcing a way through a complex program with rapid firepower. All three of these solutions are likely appropriate on a battlefield, where the rules of engagement permit expenditure of ammunition, but are somewhat limited to operating in areas where civilians are present. Every round fired that fails to hit a drone is a potential tragedy.
Kelsey Atherton blogs about military technology for C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain, Defense News, and Military Times. He previously wrote for Popular Science, and also created, solicited, and edited content for a group blog on political science fiction and international security.