With the conflict in Ukraine persisting, modern weapon makers have watched the Ukraine military demonstrate just how lethal and effective loitering munitions can be. Thus, these manufacturers are now looking to respond to rising global demand by working on ways to improve these products so they are more capable and can better survive the battlefield.
Colloquially known as kamikaze or suicide drones, loitering munitions can provide smaller soldier units with simple, small, unmanned, single-use, aerial systems that are equipped to both track and strike any target. Although loitering munitions have been around for several decades, they have gained more attention of late because of their use in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in which both countries employed such weapons.
Of course, even as interest in this equipment grows, it is important to consider how it can evolve over time. Accordingly, deputy commander of US Army in the Europe and Africa regions, Major General Peter Andrysiak, explains,“Loitering munitions, I think we’re learning a lot about what they can do and the value that they could have.”
Similarly, an Israeli Aerospace Industries official said, “We believe that for lower echelons, quadcopters, VTOL [vertical takeoff and landing] capabilities is a must have, not a missile.” The IAI official goes on to say, “So that would be more different kinds of warheads [and] the capability to pick and choose and to change, like you’re changing shells in a mortar.”
In terms of the US military, loitering munitions have been mostly utilized by special forces operations. The observations that could arise regarding the loitering munitions in Ukraine could, eventually, reform how the US might integrate these capabilities in a more conventional way.
Andrysiak further inquires, “As we go through this and learn about what’s happening in Ukraine, we’ll lfigure out what’s the right level to put those things, and where does it fit in the conventional force? Because I think most of the lessons learned and capabilities came out of special operations.”