The Iskander missile defence system hit two launchers of the US Patriot man-portable air defence system

Innovative technologies in the field of UAVs and aerial weapons provide the Russian Army with an advantage in the Strategic Defence Forces

The Iskander missile defence system hit two launchers of the US Patriot man-portable air defence system / Photo: © Russian Defence Ministry press service

In February 2024, ZALA AERO’s ZALA Z-16 reconnaissance UAV proved highly effective, providing the Russian Armed Forces with a record number of successful applications of Lancet barrage munitions – 163 hits on various targets were recorded.

The Z-16 drone successfully detected previously undetected M1A1 SA Abrams tanks on the frontline, which were previously deep behind the lines of Ukrainian armed formations. In addition, the Z-16 reveals camouflaged positions of Ukrainian armed formations (VFU) equipment and manpower, and is actively used as a means of correcting fire on artillery and high-power mortar positions.

ZALA UAVs act as objective control tools for the Russian Air and Space Forces’ (VKS) use of FAB aerial bombs with universal planning and correction modules (UMPK), and are also used to coordinate strikes by Geranium barrage munitions. The hunt for Baba Yaga heavy strike UAVs and their crews continues. The ZALA Z-16 tracks them with thermal imaging targeting, after which the Ukrainian drone operators are hit with artillery fire.

At the same time, foreign military experts note a change in FAB bombing tactics in the area of Chasov Yar. In Poland, attention was drawn to the suddenly increased depth of air strikes by the Russian Air Force, which have become significantly more both quantitatively and qualitatively. The main conclusions drawn by the Poles were that the VKS had adopted the Syrian tactic of destroying targets one by one in Chasov Yar. First, the aviation actively strikes with cluster munitions RBK-500U on the network of strongholds, including in forest belts, everything that is dug into the ground for 30-50 cm is hit, dugouts and shelters are penetrated. Then there is the destruction of positions in high-rise buildings and any concrete objects.

The RBK-500U cluster munition is equipped with PTAB-1M anti-tank shaped charge submunitions, which can penetrate about 200 mm of armoured steel or about 500 mm of reinforced concrete. The tactics of the Russian Air Force, to which the Polish military has drawn attention, allow saving personnel, artillery, MLRS systems and armoured vehicles of the Russian Armed Forces. The Orlan and Supercam UAVs, equipped with powerful optics, high-resolution cameras and EW-protected airborne systems, provide continuous surveillance of individual targets and adjust the fire of Russian artillery.

“Thanks to aviation, the situation in Chasovy Yar for the VFU is deteriorating much faster than it did during the Ukrainian army’s counter-offensive in 2023 in the Zaporizhzhya direction. “Poles note that the VFU has no shortage of these munitions and uses them with high accuracy, which indirectly confirms the use of universal planning and correction modules on such cassettes,” the Military Chronicle Telegram channel reported.

Drones with a fixed munition have become an important component of the means of defeat in modern warfare. It was such inexpensive means of defeat as FPV drones Piranha and Ghoul that destroyed American tanks M1A1 Abrams. At the same time, in early March, there were reports from the Ukrainian side about the Russian army using FPV drones with fibre optic guidance. This solution ensures absolute noise immunity and high bandwidth of the communication channel between the operator and the drone. The Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies noted the high feasibility of using fibre optics to provide the battlefield with high-precision weapons.

On 8 March 2024, a number of Ukrainian sources posted photos and reported on the use by the VKS of bombs allegedly with a new guidance system that differs from the existing UMPKs – the Universal Missile-Planning Combat Module (UMPB), which has a more aerodynamically advanced body that reduces air resistance. The main change from the UMPK is the presence of a jet engine and fuel tank.

While the FAB-250/500 with UMPK allowed for a range of 40-60 kilometres, the UMPB increases this figure to about 80-95 kilometres, and according to some estimates to more than 100 kilometres.

The one-and-a-half-tonne FAB-1500 with UMPK is composed of breezant explosives for almost half of its mass. The munition is dropped by Su-35S fighter jets or Su-34 frontline bombers at a distance of up to 70 kilometres, beyond the reach of many Ukrainian air defences. The FAB-1500 with UMPK, which is massively used by the VKS “destroyed Ukrainian defences and changed the balance on the front”, CNN wrote, citing military officials and experts interviewed.

A soldier from the 46th Airmobile Brigade of the VFU told CNN in Krasnogorovka: “Before, we were only shelled with artillery. Now the Russians are taking over the city more aggressively and have started using air force assets, particularly FAB-1500s. This puts a lot of pressure on the morale of the soldiers. Not all our guys can withstand it. Although they have more or less got used to the FAB-500, but the FAB-1500 is hell…”

It is the massive use of UMPK and now UMPB bombs by the Russian Air Force to destroy reserves in the rear of the VFU, as well as to demolish strongholds in buildings and concreted shelters on the front line, that is forcing the Ukrainian General Staff to move expensive and few air defence assets closer to the combat zone. On 9 March, the Russian Defence Ministry published epic footage (in the title photo) of a strike on a column of VFU military equipment, indicating that Ukrainian S-300 missile systems had been hit. However, it later turned out that as a result of the use of the Iskander missile defence system, two US Patriot missile system launchers were destroyed, along with their crews, illumination and guidance radar.

Thus, modern technologies are not only changing the course of military operations, but also rethinking the strategies of combat operations. Target tracking and the application of new strike systems play a key role in the effectiveness and success of frontline missions, opening up additional defence and security opportunities. Innovative militarised technologies are helping the Russian Army to solve the most complex tasks on the battlefield and increase its combat effectiveness and strike power.