The Buzz

How Russia's Military Plans to Counter the Pentagon's Drone Swarms

Over the past decade, Russian armed forces and Russian defense industry have made strides in developing, testing and fielding domestically produced unmanned aerial vehicles(UAVs). While lagging behind their Western and East Asian counterparts in reach, distance and strike capability, Russia nonetheless was successful in using smaller and lighter UAV concepts for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) purposes, both at home and in conflicts abroad. In fact, Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) officially states that ISR remains the primary purpose for its various UAV platforms. More specifically, the war in Eastern Ukraine showcased Russia's use of unmanned aerial systems that enhanced Russian-allied forces' ability to more accurately target Ukrainian opposition and gain significant advantage on the battlefield. This success was more remarkable considering that Moscow's allies used less sophisticated UAV technology than is currently in service with Western armies, prompting careful reviews of emerging new tactics, techniques and procedures across Russian armed forces.

If anything, Russian military is a good student of new practices and technologies, so even if they can’t match their current or future opponents drone for drone, they will seek to protect and defend their forces from imminent threats posed by rapidly developing UAV technologies and practices. In Ukraine, they were able to observe and negate the effects of small recon drone supplied by Americans, prompting a public and embarrassing expose of that UAVs vulnerability to jamming and hacking. Russian MOD has also launched countermeasures to protect and defend its forces against drone swarms, a tactic that is emerging as key in overwhelming and defeating opponents. Perhaps more specifically, Moscow is casting an attentive eye to American projects like LOCUST - US NAVY's Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology - that consists of 30 drones operating together. According to the American plans, "such tactics... could potentially knock out radars, missile launchers or other key systems, leaving them vulnerable to other attacks... and (enemy) anti-aircraft batteries simply won’t have enough missiles to stop (these drones)." In December 2016, CEO of the United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation Alexander Yakunin told Russia's TASS news agency that “the Russian Army may get weapons against swarms of attack mini-drones in two years.” According to Yakunin, "Powerful types of such hardware with strike capabilities may become operational in the Russian Army within four years, while simpler systems may appear already in two years. Serious potential has been accumulated and real prototypes of these weapons have been created. We have demonstrated their capabilities and the results are more than convincing.”

What will that technology actually look like? One concept undergoing testing is "Repellent", developed by Electronic Warfare Development Center (EWDC - НТЦ РЭБ). Don't let the Western name fool you - this is a totally indigenous development. Designed as a mobile platform  to destroy or suppress miniature UAVs, it targets drones which "may not exceed a few tens of centimeters (less than a foot to several feet  in length), with a weight of several kilograms." "Repellent" is supposed to "detect and neutralize enemy ISR drones and suppress their communications by powerful obstruction or directional interference, as well as disable their controls, leaving them without necessary navigation and telemetry." This technology is designed to protect not only stationary objects such as military bases, airfields, and warehouses, but also troops on the battlefield.