In the long list of weapons supplied in the US aid packages to Ukraine, there is such a line – «Approximately 700 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems». We are talking here about loitering ammunition, or the so-called «kamikaze drones». This is a special type of unmanned aerial vehicles with an integrated warhead, which are able to stay in the air for a long time in standby mode in the target area and quickly attack it – after receiving the appropriate command from the operator, or perform the tasks provided for by the algorithm embedded in the «brains» of the drone.
Such flying ammunition by design should combine the advantages of an unmanned aerial vehicle and the warhead of an aerial bomb. And by the way, the idea of such weapons has its roots in the 70s of the last century.
Modern loitering ammunition often has protection against the effects of electronic warfare of the enemy. And due to the use of AI (artificial intelligence) systems, they can independently find and destroy specified targets, which is especially effective for defeating enemy air defense systems. The small size, slowness, composite materials of kamikaze drones allow them to bypass many air defense systems designed for use against much larger combat aircraft and cruise missiles. Loitering ammunition is very cheap to produce.
Phoenix Ghost is a useful novelty in the field of weapons, developed by the American company Aevex Aerospace. This drone can be used for observation from the air, but its main purpose is attacking. The drone is effective against medium-armored ground targets: it can take off vertically and be in flight for more than six hours, the drone can also be used at night, thanks to the presence of infrared sensors. The ammunition is compact – it easily fits in a backpack.
Phoenix Ghost was developed before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, but it was created already in accordance with the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Unfortunately, the Americans supplied them very little: 700 such devices for the scale of the war in Ukraine is not even a «next to nothing», but much less. However, it is difficult to blame the United States for this, since such weapons are relatively new for the US Army itself. They simply have not yet been produced and purchased in sufficient quantities.
You might argue that kamikaze drones didn’t show up yesterday. Didn’t the U.S. have the time to adopt such a useful thing? The short answer is: «Alas!» If you try to explain the situation, you must take into account the fact that the U.S. Army is a very cumbersome, rather bureaucratic (and therefore at times very clumsy) structure.
To give a simple example: the new generation nuclear aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) was officially commissioned by the U.S. Navy on July 22, 2017, but this ship is still undergoing various tests. You see, even five years after the transfer to the Navy, this ship was still not allowed to be deployed. This fall, he will go on another training voyage, and his first combat deployment is expected only in the next 2023.
You could reasonably argue that a kamikaze drone is not a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and it doesn’t require such a careful approach. Perhaps, but let’s not forget that for its use in the troops it is also necessary to pass numerous tests, it must be tested on exercises, in a combat situation, etc. The point, after all, is not only to check whether the drone can perform its combat missions – it is necessary to solve many related problems: 1) whether this kamikaze drone will interfere in the air of another Drones – say, small reconnaissance vehicles like the familiar ScanEagle? 2) How will our radars and electronic warfare equipment interact with this drone? 3) How will interaction with other units be established so that it does not happen that the same enemy target will be chased simultaneously by gunners with an M982 Excalibur guided projectile and a kamikaze drone operator? 4) Who will coordinate the actions of the team controlling the drone in each specific unit? 5) How many such teams will it be necessary to have in a battalion, brigade, division? 6) How and who will prioritize the targets? And so on.
The Americans take such issues very seriously, and they will never allow into the troops equipment that has not been thoroughly tested, and with which combat units have not learned to work.
Unfortunately, Ukraine does not have time for such a comfortable approach – it needs any weapons «here and now». So, what to do? To help the Ukrainians in this matter came, as it always happens in recent months, Poland!
The Poles provided Ukraine with their Warmate drone. This is an attack unmanned aviation complex, designed, depending on the warhead installed on it (fragmentation, cumulative, thermobaric warhead, or optoelectronic station), for observation, detection, tracking and identification of targets, as well as for the destruction of lightly armored enemy vehicles.
The Warmate complex is the development of the Polish company WB Electronics and the Military Institute of Weapons Technology. The concept was first introduced in 2014. Warmate was exhibited in September 2015 at the International Defense Industry Exhibition. In April 2016, the vice president of the company said that the complex had already been ordered by two countries.
As of June 2016, the Chernihiv Plant of Radio Devices «CheZaRa» acquired a copy of the Warmate drone and a license for its serial production in Poland, and also conducted appropriate tests. The Ukrainian name of the drone is «Falcon».
The Warmate drone was demonstrated on October 11-14, 2016 in Kyiv at the exhibition «Arms and Security 2016». In November 2016, Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz announced the intentions of the Armed Forces and Territorial Defense of Poland in the near future to adopt thousands of locally produced attack drones, including Warmate kamikaze drones.
Turkey, which supports Libya’s Government of National Unity, as well as the UAE (United Arab Emirates), which supports the Libyan National Army, have purchased Warmate kamikaze drones to ensure the delivery of aircraft to supported groups.
WB Electronics offers an individualized training program consisting of lectures, computer simulations, and outdoor flight exercises that introduce the user to increasingly complex navigation tasks and attack scenarios. Training can be conducted in Poland or in any other country (except Russia).
The reconnaissance version of the Warmate-R, created on the basis of the same fuselage and ground segment, combines 3 cameras to provide several views: an 8 mm/0.3 inches lens directed forward, and optics of 8 mm/0.3 inches and 12 mm/0.47 inches, providing the possibility of a smooth inclination from a downward position (0 degrees) to a side position (90 degrees). The drone can be equipped with daylight cameras and thermal imaging cameras with remote control PAN and TILT (allow you to move the camera along the X and Y axis, as well as change the angle of the camera), as well as a laser designator. The Warmate-R drone can operate in «target lock» mode to track moving targets and allows you to get accurate data on the location of enemy vehicles.
But, of course, the main value is represented by the variants of the Warmate drone with shock warheads: fragmentation, cumulative and thermobaric.
The launch of the device is carried out by pneumatic launch from a container launcher. Structurally, the Warmate is a composite high-wing aircraft with a V-shaped tail, equipped with an electric motor. The range of the complex is 30 km/18.6 miles, the duration of loitering is 60 minutes, the maximum speed is 150 km/h/93 mph, the practical ceiling is 3000 m/9842.5 feet with a cruising altitude of 150 to 300 meters/492 to 984 feet.
The maximum take-off weight of the complex is 5.7 kg/12.5 lbs., while the device can be equipped with combat heads of various types of damage with an explosive weight of up to 800 grams/28 ounces. The aircraft has an automatic flight control mode and a return system in case of failure.
During the attack, the kamikaze drone enters the target, peaking at its maximum speed of 150 km/h/93 mph. The operator controls the drone attack with the help of appropriate optics and can cancel the mission already during the strike maneuver itself, giving Warmate the command to return to base.
Nomenclature of warheads of the Warmate drone.
GO-1 and GO-2: High-explosive fragmentation warheads designed to defeat enemy manpower in open terrain. GO-1 weighs 1 kg/2.2 lbs. – of which 300 g/10.6 ounces is explosives. The scattering of fragments is 10 m/33 feet. There is no data on the second GO-2 munition – it can be assumed that more explosives are laid there.
GK-1: Cumulative warhead to combat armored vehicles and light fortifications. GK-1 is capable of burning through armor up to 120 mm/4.7 inches thick (according to Defence.pl – up to 220 mm/8.6 inches). These indicators are enough to destroy armored personnel carriers and self-propelled guns. The GK-1 can be used against older tanks that are not protected from attacks from above.
GTB-1: Thermobaric warhead – it creates a so-called «volumetric explosion» by spraying and detonating an incendiary mixture in the air.
The GS-9 is not a warhead, but a bi-stabilized optoelectronic imaging station. It is the GS-9 station that turns a conventional Warmate kamikaze drone into a Warmate-R reconnaissance drone with a range of about 15 km/9 miles and a flight duration of 80 minutes at an altitude of about 500 meters/1640 feet.
For the Drone Warmate there are five flight modes.
- AUTO mode – the AV will follow base on pre-programmed waypoints route and flight program.
- HOLD mode – the AV orbits a point over the ground.
- FLY TO mode – the AV will fly to on-map selected point with stable altitude.
- CRUISE mode – cruise mode will set the AV to hold steady at a particular altitude and flight direction. Operator’s control of the AV is semi-manual supported by autopilot in a straight line in the direction that the camera is facing.
- ATTACK mode – this mode initiates the strike. The automated videotracker allows for a precise target hit without the operator’s control even after the loss of communication.
The ground control station of the drone is quite light – it can be transported in one backpack and includes a rugged tactical computer with a touch screen. The data transmission channel is digital, encrypted, bidirectional.
Also included in the kit is an automatic antenna tracker mounted on a tripod with a data transmission range of up to 30 km/18.6 miles. At the same time, real-time data can be viewed and changed on the screen in the form of a map with a detailed description of the location, speed and altitude of the drone.
The operator can easily set and change flight plans using user-friendly software that can be installed on any type of laptop selected by the end user.
The statistically confirmed guidance accuracy is 1.5 meters/5 feet of CEP (circular probable deviation).
And the last (in a row, but not in importance) remark regarding the capabilities of the drone is that Warmate can be used in a variant of the attack of the «swarm of drones» – however, the developers prefer not to talk much about this possibility.
So, summing up, we can list the main advantages of the Polish kamikaze drone Warmate:
- quiet electric motor;
- durable, lightweight body;
- availability of ground control station;
- the possibility of attacking a swarm of drones;
- flight duration up to 60 min;
- replaceable warheads;
- electro-optical and infrared sensors provide daytime operations and night operations;
- multiple levels of security;
- user-friendly interface;
- multiple airplane modes;
- readiness for flight in 5 minutes;
- high accuracy of target destruction –5 meters/5 feet of CEP.
On July 20, two Warmate munitions struck the Russian Grad multiple launch rocket system.