Counter UAS becomes top priority in Ukraine war

Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot Defence System
Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot Defence System

No conflict or external threat has so extensively tested drone warfare as the Ukraine war, nor highlighted the devastating consequences of not having deployed the right counter drone systems. Not only have Russia and the Ukraine accelerated acquisition and development of combat unmanned aerial systems (UAS), but so have defence manufacturers around the world.

Both Russia and Ukraine began using UAS at the outset of the war. Ukraine has used a variety of drone systems from different countries and manufacturers, while Russian forces have used domestically manufactured drones such as the ZALA Lancet UAV and loitering munition throughout the past year.

Ukrainian forces have had great success in using Turkish defence firm Baykar’s Bayraktar TB2 UAV against Russian armoured vehicles and artillery systems. Ukraine became Baykar’s first export customer in 2019, with the purchase of six TB2s. In the days leading up the war, Baykar agreed to co-produce the drones with Ukraine, doubling down on the commitment last summer by announcing plans to build a full production facility in the country within the next two years.

Looking for ways to match Ukraines attack drone capability, Russia began buying Iranian drones last summer and has used Shahed-129, Shahed 136, Shahed-191 and Mohajer-6 UAVs. Despite failures and Ukraine’s claims to have shot down high numbers of these drones, the additional capability has allowed Russia to cause widespread damage, knocking out power stations in Odessa and other power systems in the Kyiv region.

Although Ukrainian defences have proved to be effective against Russian and Iranian attack UAVs, the use of swarm drones increases the aggressor’s chances of success dramatically. For example, an 80 percent effective counter drone response when being attacked by a swarm of 30 Shahed 136 UAVs is still a failure. It only takes one drone to get through to potentially take out a power plant or another key element of infrastructure.

In consequence air defence has become a top priority for Ukraine and its Western backers, but this also highlights the lack of effective military systems able to counter a variety of different drones. Both Germany and the US agreed to provide Ukraine with a Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot Defence System, the first being delivered by Germany earlier this month. However, the Patriot surface-to-air missile system is designed primarily to counter traditional air threats.

Meanwhile, according to the US Department of Defense, its latest $500 million security package announced for Ukraine, includes a significant contribution to air defence capabilities. Among these are nine counter-UAS (C-UAS) 30mm gun trucks and 10 mobile C-UAS laser-guided rocket systems, which the US hopes will be able to detect and intercept hard-to-track drones such as Iran’s Shahed series UAV. How successful the systems are could well have an impact far beyond Ukraine.

by Carrington Malin