Russian Arms Contractor Plans Anti-Drone Smart Shrapnel Weapon

Russian drone exercise
A Russian soldier handles a 'Zastava' surveillance drone during exercises in the Western Military District, Leningradskaya region, March, 10, 2014. Russia is developing anti-drone shrapnel-based weapons. Ministry of Defence of Russia

Russia is developing a shrapnel anti-drone weapon, one of its arms contractors has announced, as the country's military continues efforts to build a defense against unmanned aircraft.

"In order to ensure greater effectiveness in anti-drone combat we need to develop [arms] and we are working on it," Oleg Chizhevsky, head designer at the NPO Pribor contractor, told state news agency Itar-Tass. He added that the work is focusing on "shrapnel ammunition for striking small targets."

He said the ammunition will likely be from the 30 millimeter or 57 millimeter caliber, though he refused to say when the weapon would enter service with the military.

Russian military analyst at London's Royal United Services Institute Igor Sutyagin says the new weapon would present "qualitative change" to Russia's current anti-drone arms, improving accuracy, without representing a change in design.

"Firing shrapnel is the most natural way to fight small drones," Sutyagin says. "The new idea is the development of brilliant shrapnel, or smart shrapnel as it is sometimes called, in which you put interceptors close to the target and launch a cloud of millions of these particles. It is tougher to hit a drone with a missile."

Michael Koffman, research scientist at the U.S. Center for Naval Analyses, notes that the development would be a "quick fix" for Russia, whose military still lacks the ability to jam drones. The size of caliber cited by Chizhevsky could also betray details about the ammunition's use.

"In the Russian military 30mm is a standard round for an armored personnel carrier and infantry fighting vehicle," Koffman says. "57mm is the next round up and they will be upgrading those weapons soon. So that immediately tells you that the Russians are looking at shrapnel rounds for combat modules that are mounted on infantry fighting vehicles, on armored personnel carriers and air defense systems."

In recent years Russia has observed the use of small drones at close range both in Syria, in the fight against the militant group Islamic State (ISIS), where Russia backs the government, and in Iraq, where it backs anti-ISIS militants.

"All forces are struggling with dealing with the drone problem," he adds. "A lot of militaries do not have the contingency of tackling them with signals suppression so they use kinetic means like shrapnel."

Ukraine has complained that its U.S.-supplied drones fall prey to Russian jamming capabilities, provided to Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's east. However, the models in use there are analog and more susceptible to older jamming methods.