A video surfaced in recent days of a particularly scary concept — a drone with a shotgun mounted in its airframe. But it doesn’t look like it’s designed to hunt people: the video is a demonstration of a Russian device that’s designed to take on smaller aircraft, namely other drones.
The drone seems to have begun development back in 2016 (via Foxtrot Alpha) from a group of students at the Moscow Aviation Institute. While there have been instances of people mounting firearms (and chainsaws) to drones, there are some drawbacks — the recoil from a gunshot makes it impractical for actually being an effective weapons platform.
According to Defence.ru, the students appear to have solved that problem by developing a stabilizing mechanism to improve its accuracy. Russian arms manufacturer Almaz-Antey has since been issued a patent for the design, and presumably created the prototype.
The drone itself is armed with a Russian-made Vepr-12 shotgun, and an operator using a visor can control the drone from the ground. The aircraft takes off vertically, can fly for around 40 minutes, and according to C4ISRNET, is designed as a platform to attack small drones from the air. The video shows off the drone in action, flying around to to attack a balloon target and then an RC plane.
Another video from a year ago shows off that the drone also doesn’t necessarily have to be airborne to be functional:
In theory, it’s an interesting idea that a drone with a gun installed (or is it a gun with wings?) could be a sort of anti-drone defense. Drones are certainly already a threat on the battlefield, as militaries around the world have had to contend with military and commercially-produced drones being repurposed for war in Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, and in particular, Syria. In some instances, the drones have been used to drop explosives on enemy forces, but they don’t necessarily have to be weaponized to be effective: they can simply capture video to be used in propaganda.
As a result, there’s a large market for counter-drone defenses as well — Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone found that there were “at least 235 counter-drone products either on the market or under active development,” a year ago. It found that the most common defensive measure was a jamming system — like what the Gatwick and Heathrow Airports purchased to protect their airspaces from drone incursions — while other concepts, like microwave cannons, nets, even birds of prey are also being tried out. This particular method — taking the fight directly to the threat in question — seems like it’s a flexible way to approach the issue, given that this particular drone doesn’t require specialized launch facilities or equipment, and could theoretically hunt down an enemy aircraft quickly.
Sam Bendett of defense research and analysis organization CNA tells The Verge that this type of system seems be a result of Russia’s experiences dealing with drones in Syria, noting that its service members are being trained to deal with drones. Russia, he says, as “a plethora of electronic warfare systems — stationary, mobile, portable — to deal with UAVs,” and that electronic countermeasures is “done on a regular and consistent basis.” He notes that this particular drone is a prototype, and suggests that “it may have been [created as] a simple ‘stop-gap’ measure to help forces against small, cheap” systems. It’s another tool in a larger counter-drone arsenal.