Maritime Brimstone missiles on a combat boat / Image credit: MBDA

​Ukraine Wants to Turn Suicide Sea Drones Into Air Defense Platforms: Which Weapons Would Fit

Maritime Brimstone missiles on a combat boat / Image credit: MBDA

Turning naval drones into versatile weapons carriers is the next step in their evolution, and Ukraine's secret manufacturer of Magura V5 is already working in that idea

Ukrainian developer of Magura V5 unmanned surface vessels is already working on expanding the variety of tasks the drone can perform. One direction in mind is installing air defense equipment, says Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, in an interview to Ukrainska Pravda; the military intelligence agency is the main customer and operator of the Magura.

Defense Express earlier drew attention to the fact russian Navy is trying to counter Ukrainian maritime drones with special aircraft and attack helicopters, with episodes of drone-hunting like shown in the video below — Mi-28 firing missiles and guns at an enemy drone boat — becoming commonplace.

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Though as Ukrainska Pravda notes, the development extends beyond solving one problem, and prospects of giving the naval drones other capabilities, such as strikes on remote sea- or land-based targets, are being explored as well. At the same time, the difficulty of implementing these upgrades is acknowledged.

"Experts are currently working on installing air defense equipment on the unmanned platform. I'm not a technician, but I understand that this is a rather difficult task. You need equipment to detect a target, capture an airborne object, and destroy it – all on a fairly small platform. It's not an easy task technically, but it is possible," intelligence commander Budanov said.

Magura V5
Magura V5 / Still frame credit: CNN

Apart from that, the manufacturer of the unmanned vessel notes that "wave impacts and rocking motions" require a powerful stabilizer, without one the weapons wouldn't be able to aim and shoot properly.

Defense Express adds that apart from the mentioned, there are challenges posed by the aggressive saline water environment. On top of that, the weapon should be compact enough to fit on the maritime platform and not displace the center of mass. And when talking about weapons conforming to all those conditions, the list of candidates becomes quite slim. So here are a few potential options for weapon systems.

The Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) rockets are a good fit, as they are small and can target both aerial and ground targets. The Vampire launchers from L3Harris are already being used by Ukrainian forces to great effect. The problem, however, is aiming: APKWS needs laser designation, provided by Vampire's WESCAM MX-10 RSTA stabilized multi-sensor sighting system, but it's difficult to say whether its stabilizer can cope with the task of keeping the laser beam at the target.

The Vampire system for launching APKWS rockets
The Vampire system for launching APKWS rockets / Photo credit: L3Harris

There are some options not relying on a targeting system at all, just a simple sighting one. Brimstone is a viable option because it only relies on its own radar homing seeker for guidance and is versatile. That is, it can be used against all types of targets, too, sparing the Magura developers from the need to create a different launcher for an anti-air, anti-land, and anti-ship missile, respectively.

Brimstone / Image credit: MBDA

Brimstone weighs 50 kg and is fairly compact, allowing it to be even equipped on aerial copter drones, and importantly, its missiles can attack multiple targets simultaneously, launched in a single volley discharge. Brimstone is regularly supplied to Ukraine by the United Kingdom, just recently a new tranche of 200 missiles were announced by the British government.

The question, though, is whether a Brimstone can destroy an air target. Officially, the manufacturer, European MBDA, does not specify such capability but the Brimstone derives from the American AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missile which can destroy helicopters and aerial drones in the Stryker A1 IM-SHORAD version.

Alternatively, Ukrainians can turn their eyes toward the United States' experiment with a Hero-120 system for launching kamikaze drones from an LRUSV unmanned sea vessel.

This solution is raises the most doubt in its effectiveness because the creator of Hero-120 system, Uvision, does not list shooting down helicopters as one of the weapon's standard tasks.

But in the end, only the mysterious creator of the Magura V5 naval drones knows best the specifications, properties, and limits of its uncrewed vessel and can choose the best weapon system to integrate.

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