L3 Harris VAMPIRE Counter-Drone System Proven

The Ukrainian Navy recently released a video confirming the effectiveness of the VAMPIRE counter-drone weapon systems developed and manufactured by L3Harris and provided by the United States military to Ukraine. The VAMPIRE utilizes several components previously developed for other applications now combined to engage airborne drones. 

The concept of VAMPIRE or Vehicle Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment, was first demonstrated by L3Harris as a prototype in 2021 and refined throughout 2022. It incorporates the WESCAM MX-10 RSTA targeting sensor often mounted on an elevating mast with the BAE Systems APKWS II (Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System on an aimable LAND LGR4launcher. APKWS is actually a modification of the 70mm (2.75) inch folding fin aerial rocket already widely used on helicopters and some fixed wing aircraft for decades. It adds a laser-guidance system to the rocket providing it precision accuracy when a target is “painted” by a laser-designator. It received its combat debut in Afghanistan in the air-to-ground role.

In VAMPIRE the targeting sensor, display/controls, and launcher with a rocket pod (typically four APKWS rockets) were originally seen on a commercial pick-up bed. Now, however, photos of the latest production version show the HMMWV M1152A1 being used as the base vehicle.

The operator in the cab acquires the target using the day and/or thermal sensors in the stablized gimble electro-optic package. Once acquired the target is tracked with the laser-designator then painting the target for the laser-sensors in the APKWS rocket. As the rocket is a standard 70mm it can accept the complete range of warheads including proximity-air burst (against air targets) or even high-explosive or HEAT against ground targets. So VAMPIRE can also be used in a ground-to-ground role as well as ground-to-air.

Plus VAMPIRE is adaptable to a wide range of ground platforms with both vehicles and other platforms possible. In fact, a version deployed in a container has been shown for provided air/C-UAS defense of fixed sites.

Still its primary purpose in Ukraine is to engage the relatively low-cost drones being used in mass like the Shahed-136 (which was successfully destroyed in the released video footage). This permits other air defense assets to focus on higher-end threats.

Initially four early VAMPIRE were provided to Ukraine with ten production systems using the up-armoured HMMWV delivered in December 2023. Currently fourteen are in the field in Ukraine. Its success on the battlefield has given both VAMPIRE and the APKWS significant attention and consideration by other end-users and militaries.

by Stephen W. Miller