The ‘Vampire’ rocket system helping Ukraine shoot down Russia’s kamikaze drones

While the Ministry of Defence says Russia is likely struggling with detecting Ukrainian drones – a number of a US-made counter-drone launcher have arrived in Ukraine and are being used by Kyiv’s troops

Chris Stevenson
Monday 04 September 2023 10:42 BST

Ukraine pilot films moment drone flies into Russian truck

The massive drone attack across multiple regions of Russia into Wednesday marked Ukraine's largest attack on Russian soil since the start of Vladimir Putin's invasion 18 months ago.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said it is one of 25 such attacks on Russia during August as Kyiv increases its attempts to "bring the war home" to Russia and destroy equipment that would be used on the frontline in Ukraine. The MoD believes that Russian air defences are likely having difficulty detecting and destroying the drones, given the number of drones hitting their targets.

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For Ukraine, their own mission to down drones coming from Russia, a constant menace throughout the war, is being added by the US-made 'Vampire' rocket system. The Vampire consists of a laser-guided-missile launcher that houses four rockets and can quickly be installed in a military – or even civilian – truck with a flat bed. It can fire BAE Systems’ Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System rockets outfitted with fuses designed to detonate near a drone.

The Vampire, which stands for Vehicle Agnostic Modular Palletised ISR Rocket Equipment, has one major aim. As the Pentagon's undersecretary of defense for policy Colin Kahl, put it, the launcher “uses small missiles, essentially, to shoot [drones] out of the sky.”

The laser-guided element allows it to be very accurate, without being as hi-tech as other systems being sent by Western allies. There are other advantages to the system too. The cost per missile is about $27,000 (£21,000), which is expensive for a single munition but relatively cheap for guided missile. The fact that it can be added to most flatbed trucks is useful, with Ukraine's ground forces having proved resourceful in adapting a number of vehicles to house the weapons they need.

Ukraine air defences have had to shoot Russian drones out of the sky for almost all of Moscow’s 18-month invasion

Air defence systems like the Vampire give Ukrainian forces the option to swiftly – and relatively cheaply – combat Russia's kamikaze drones, offering them the ability to keep their most advanced anti-aircraft systems for areas where they are most important. With many air defence systems built to take down airplanes, helicopters and missiles, small drones can prove a costly problem. While there is scope for advanced technology drones to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to produce, but smaller ones can cost thousands or even hundreds of pounds. Missiles used to shoot them down can also cost hundreds of thousands, making the four-barrel Vampire rocket launcher system a relative steal.

The Pentagon has confirmed that the Vampire, which is also able to strike ground units, is now being used by Ukrainian forces. “Initial Vampire systems have been delivered and are in operation by Ukrainian Armed Forces,” the Pentagon’s Acquisition and Sustainment Office said in statement. The company that makes the counter-drone system, L3Harris Technologies Inc have said that four of the 14 systems that make up a $40m contract signed in January, arrived in Ukraine in the middle of the year. The contract calls for the other 10 to be delivered by the end of 2023.

While the bulk of US military support to Ukraine comes from existing stock, the contact for the Vampires comes directly under the billions of dollars set forth as part of Washington's Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. It is the first time the system has been deployed in a combat zone – and it will prove extremely useful to Ukraine in a conflict where drones are playing an increasingly important role.

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