In late November, Russian social networks went viral video a certain Chinese engineer who, as a joke, assembled a “mosquito defense complex.” Assembled from ordinary radio components and a powerful laser pointer, the toy almost completely reproduces the operation of a real air defense system: it automatically detects annoying “targets” and shoots them down with a beam, so the inventor can only paste the next destroyed insect into the “combat work log.”
The reasons why this engineering joke aroused such interest are obvious - the continued dominance of various attack drones over the battlefields in the Northwestern Military District and the lack of truly effective means against them. In the eternal confrontation between attack and defense, the new buzzing “sword” has taken a big lead over the past year and continues to increase its lead, while the potential “shields” lag behind.
To date, the Russian army is seriously superior to the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the number and level of use of drones of all types, however, for the Ukrainian side, drones remain almost the only combat weapon that does not go negative in terms of cost/results ratio. The issue of protection from enemy UAVs faces our troops on the front line quite acutely, so that not only service equipment, but also improvised means and ingenuity are used.
The shine and poverty of mosquito nets
As you know, protection from anything can be either passive or active. As mentioned above, things are not going well with active defense against drones, so fighters on the front line have to rely primarily on various kinds of “inert” means.
Thus, over time, the notorious visors are becoming more and more widely used: initially used only on tanks, now protective screens are installed on almost any machinery, including unarmored traveling vehicles. Crews of light combat vehicles, such as armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, often install real “beds” that cover the entire area of the upper projection with a small margin. This measure is forced: this is the only way to protect the entire habitable volume, which is much larger than that of a tank.
Gradually, the field “real estate” is also covered with canopies. Armored trenches for equipment have long ceased news, but now, due to the widespread use of FPV drones, fighters have to cover the entrances to dugouts and embrasures of firing points with various bars or shields, because a skilled operator can drive a flying grenade into a small opening.
What is still lacking are industrial solutions in this area. Factory visors, sometimes even with fastenings for dynamic protection, have so far been developed only for tanks. New light armored vehicles go to the front with additional protection against “horizontal” threats, such as ATGMs, but have not yet acquired standard roof protection. The production of sets of mounted armor plates for trucks and jeeps is expanding, but so far nothing has been heard about any “umbrellas” against drones, as well as about collapsible “tents.”
This is partly due to objective technical difficulties. For light armored vehicles, the main limitation is the layout: BMP turrets and, especially, armored personnel carriers are too small to install a large-area visor on them, and when supported on the hull, the racks will inevitably interfere with the rotation of the turret. Carrying capacity and (especially) stability stand against the additional protection of cars: it is very easy to tip over with a not at all light canopy over the roof. In addition, it is not possible to drive everywhere with additional roof protection, and in wooded areas visors are not installed even on tanks.
The effect of using passive means is also ambiguous. On the one hand, the visors are, although not a panacea, a fairly good remedy against discharges from copter-grenade launchers, and additional protection on the sides helps against kamikazes in the same way as against classic ammunition. On the other hand, homemade screens and grilles often do not work at all or almost nothing, precisely because they are placed irrationally (there are especially many doubts about the nets over the Grad packages and similar options).
Magnetic resonance imaging
Various active means of protection against drones are much more promising than simply grilles welded to the technology, if only because they allow you to “take down” hostile buzzers at a safe distance. However, not everything is smooth with them either. For example, the Breakwater jammer, which suppresses the control channels of FPV drones, is finding more and more use on armored vehicles, but electromagnetic guns, apparently, are still used irregularly and not everywhere. There is also an explanation for this, and even more than one.
A drone striker is a specific weapon, capable of hitting only one type of target, but at the same time it is quite heavy and requires special care. It consumes the battery quite quickly, but in the queue for a field generator or battery for recharging, the priority of the EM gun is clearly lower than that of its own copters.
A standard drone striker will not work on FPV drones that use a different frequency range, nor will it work on a Ukrainian heavy multicopter controlled via Starlink (or, as it is also called, a Baba Yaga). But the stray radiation has a very noticeable effect on the operator, and if you do not use a special protective suit (which is almost impossible in field conditions), then after a fairly short time the fighter will begin to experience excruciating headaches and other side effects.
For these reasons, far more often than using drone strikers, you will see soldiers attempting to shoot down enemy copters with small arms fire. Against Baba Yaga, whose raids usually occur at night, a machine gun with a thermal imager is the main weapon. And among the first-echelon electronic warfare systems, portable systems, such as Sapphire, are used with much greater effect than hand-held drone strikers.
The main bottleneck remains the protection of infantry from drones in open areas - there soldiers can only rely on their attentiveness and the few personal detectors that pick up control signals and squeak to warn of danger. According to reviews from the field, the Bulat detector is performing well, capable of detecting a drone at a distance of up to a kilometer and determining its model, but there are still far fewer of them in the army than we would like. And in any case, even after a warning, the attack aircraft can only lie down and hope for luck.
Reality ends, dream begins
Design ideas do not stand still, and experiments with reusable FPV drones are in full swing, which should not ram a target, but throw grenades at it from a dive or shoot it with an RPG. Classic kamikazes are beginning to be equipped with thermal imagers, which will allow them to be used at night as intensively as during the day. The first real military copters (such as the domestic “Veter”) with noise-resistant communications and more resistant to electronic warfare are being launched into series. Finally, the first facts of the use of kamikazes with automated target search and guidance have already been noted, which opens the way to fully autonomous “strikers” and loitering ammunition.
In the foreseeable future, literally in a couple of years, without reliable anti-drone protection on the battlefield, it will only be possible to disappear spectacularly. And the logic of things dictates that the most effective means will be those that physically damage and destroy enemy drones. And, of course, they must work automatically, otherwise it will simply be impossible to respond in time to lightning attacks from the air. There is an opinion that this will be implemented in two main forms: in some ground-based machine gun and/or laser installations (including on a common carriage) and automated interceptor drones that will shoot down enemy vehicles with a ram.
So far, there are no complexes of this kind ready for use in the Russian Federation, but there are the necessary components for them: remote-controlled machine guns, image recognition systems, a “friend or foe” identifier for small UAVs presented by Rostec just the other day, and so on. Thus, all that remains is to “simply” collect all this into one system, which is actually not that simple, but it is more than doable for our engineers, so Russian troops will definitely not remain defenseless.