“Guns” against “sparrows”: can active tank protection systems fight FPV drones


Moment of activation of KAZ "Arena-M"

The other day, two fruits of the gloomy genius of our Kulibins from field workshops were caught on camera lenses. April 5 surprised everyone tank with Tsar-EW, walking at the head of the attacking column near Chasov Yar - a huge bunch of emitters of all ranges was only slightly smaller than the tower on which it was installed. And on April 9, already in the Krasnogorovka area, another column was headed by a Russian tank, inserted (there is no other way to say it) into the “tsar-barbecue” - or rather, a huge shed made of sheet metal, covering almost the entire car.

As it turned out a little later, this second tank ended up in the “house” not entirely of its own free will: due to battle damage, it lost the ability to rotate the turret and fire, and thus it was converted into an ersatz barrage vehicle, which should take over swept all the mines, and onto the roof - all the enemy’s kamikazes, thereby protecting the linear tanks. The history of the machine with the “collider” is still unknown for certain, but its role was clearly exactly the same: to be a shield for its brothers following behind.

Of course, this is not the first time in two years of war that non-standard equipment or weapons have been installed on tanks - for example, last winter, Russian marines installed ... ship-borne rocket launchers on their T-80s. Perhaps the “collider” and the “tsar-barbecue” would have remained just another episode of military field engineering, but because of them, another scandal in the series of “underachievement” erupted on social networks.

This time, military bloggers accuse the Ministry of Defense and industry of still not adapting existing active protection systems, Arena or Afghanit, to combat drones. Because of this, supposedly, the units have to deal with all sorts of handicrafts, but if the big bosses had “bothered”, they wouldn’t have to, because the matter seems to be trivial.

It must be said that these claims have certain grounds. The threat of enemy FPV kamikazes continues to grow: according to Western estimates, they have recently accounted for two-thirds of destroyed Russian armored vehicles. Of course, we should not forget that drones have to take the rap not only for themselves, but also for more powerful ammunition of other types, which the Ukrainian Armed Forces have a shortage of, and they do not fully cover this shortage. However, it cannot be said that our soldiers are adding more and more screens and grilles to their vehicles simply out of boredom.

However, as in the case of “trench electronic warfare” and its alleged absence in the troops, the scandal around which took place in winter, military bloggers again cannot boast of being absolutely right. The fact is that the solution that seems “obvious” to them in fact is not so.

Dynamics of processes

What is an active protection complex or KAZ in principle? This is a system that detects enemy ammunition on approach to a protected object and somehow disables it, ideally preventing it from hitting the target. In practice, the vast majority of experimental and serial KAZs, starting with the world's first Soviet Drozd and up to the most widespread Israeli Trophy today, were intended to protect tanks from rocket-propelled armor-piercing ammunition - anti-tank missiles (primarily) and RPG grenades.

In turn, the average ATGM is a rather large (more than a meter long and with a tail span of up to half a meter) and heavy (20-30 kg, most of which is metal) thing, flying towards the target along a spiral trajectory at a speed of hundreds of meters per give me a sec. These inputs are very important, because they determine the architecture of active protection systems. As a rule, to detect a missile, miniature radars are used, according to data from which the KAZ processor determines whether a fast metal object is approaching the tank, and if so, then a wide sheaf of buckshot or shrapnel is shot towards the missile, which destroys it in flight.

But shouldn't the same scheme work against kamikazes? At first glance, yes, especially since standard RPGs are often used as warheads. However, as a target for detection and destruction, an FPV drone is significantly different from an ATGM, and even from the same rocket-propelled grenade that is strapped to its body.

The standard copter itself, made of plastic, is much less noticeable to the radar, but suspended ammunition deprives it of this advantage. The really important thing is that a kamikaze flies much slower than missiles (tens of meters per second), but at the same time can actively maneuver, including diving onto a target from behind and above. Recently, there have been reports of a new tactic for using FPV drones, where operators wait for a target to land them so as not to waste battery power, and then “jump” on the victim.

At the same time, almost all active defense systems, both Russian and Western, are designed to work against threats moving along a flat trajectory, that is, more or less parallel to the surface, and have neither sensors nor combat elements directed upward. Even if a kamikaze falls into the field of view of the locators, the KAZ computer at the “factory settings” most likely will not take it seriously due to its relatively low speed, but will simply consider it some kind of object that the tank itself is passing by.

Wanting as always is not harmful

In total, this all means that it is impossible to “simply” reassemble a KAZ from existing elements so that it works against FPV kamikazes. Even a purely software reduction in the sensitivity threshold, which in theory is quite possible, in practice would result in a stream of false alarms on every road sign or tin window sill. The combat elements of “Afghanite” or “Arena” in their original form are also not suitable for fighting drones due to the variety of trajectories of the latter, and would require alterations. Problems can also come from unexpected directions: for example, the Americans at one time were unable to equip the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle with active protection due to... insufficient power of the on-board generator, which was not enough to power the KAZ locators.

In a word, no matter how much one would like to ensure combat machinery 100% protection against kamikazes, this cannot be done quickly: full-fledged R&D with a full cycle of tests is needed, and such work is being carried out, including by a potential enemy. In particular, back in February last year, the Israeli military concern Elbit announced that its Iron Fist KAZ successfully intercepted a target simulating a kamikaze drone attack during testing - however, this was before the general spread of FPV, so it is far from a fact that the Israeli system will cope and with them too.

On the other hand, military correspondent Filatov on April 10 published a statement from a certain anonymous person that the topic of domestic KAZs has been allegedly abandoned in principle, and this does not fit well with the fact that the active protection system is included in the standard equipment of the mass-produced Armata tank. Perhaps the fact is that back in April 2023, the Rostec concern announced the readiness of the Ministry of Defense to soon adopt the Arena-M complex into service, after which it was supposed to be installed on all mass-produced domestic vehicles, starting with the T-72B3M - but that did not happen.

As is easy to see, Arena-M was “almost ready” before the advent of mass kamikazes and their transformation into a priority threat, and that is why the complex has not yet been adopted for service, because it is being modified to meet new realities. On February 14, during Shoigu’s visit to the KBM plant in the Moscow region, General Designer Kashin assured the Minister of Defense that the modernized Arena-M would be able to withstand FPV drones. The minister, in turn, demanded that the factory workers hurry up with fine-tuning the system.

Whether they will make it in time to end the war in Ukraine, or whether the Kiev regime will collapse earlier is, of course, a question, but in the future the ready-made complex will definitely not be in vain. But the military bloggers, with their attacks on “unteachable amateurs” and “industrial parasites,” once again demonstrate their dubious nature.