Now There’s A Drum Magazine For Dropping Multiple Bombs From Commercial Drones

There are unconfirmed reports that an unnamed Dutch company has developed drum magazines for commercial drones, and that prototypes are headed to Ukraine. The photos, which began circulating on social media late last week, show what looks to be a commercial quadcopter-type drone equipped with a drum magazine that is engineered to hold and drop multiple mortar shells in succession.

A corresponding video demonstration depicts the drum magazine rotating through a barrel of what appear to be inert mortar rounds that are then released from the device. Reported to have been developed for Ukrainian forces, the delivery wouldn’t be the first time small commercial drones, furnished with improvised weapons, have made appearances in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. 

In terms of the quadcopter-mounted drum magazine, it’s possible that we may have already seen a prototype version in use by Ukrainian forces. A video clip, seen below, reportedly taken using a camera on a weaponized commercial drone, is said to show an attack on a Russian T-72B3 tank involving four mortar rounds dropped in relatively quick succession. The general size and shape of the mortar rounds seen in the footage, as well as the total number of rounds employed and that they are released horizontally, could line up with the capabilities of the drum we’ve seen so far.

A magazine made specifically for mortar shells that can be mounted on off-the-shelf multi-rotor drones could provide Ukraine with a significant upgrade in how its forces take on Russian ground forces and armor. Whether or not the T-72B3 attack video actually shows this system in use, it does showcase the value of having multiple rounds available when engaging a single target — especially a heavily armored one — allowing for rapid follow-up attacks. Alternatively, it also creates the opportunity for several targets to be engaged in one single drone flight.

Makeshift arrangements with multiple bomblets being dropped from off-the-shelf or home-built drones have been around since this threat emerged during the Battle of Mosul, but these are improvised and unreliable systems that don’t compare to a purposefully engineered magazine system that feeds readily available ammunition.

Russians have also made use of improvised drone ‘bombers.’ Two videos that have circulated on Twitter depict separate combat scenarios in which a drone was used to drop a grenade on Ukrainian positions. In both cases, additions as simple as a household drink cup were used to carry the grenade. The grenade-in-a-cup method is intended to hold the ‘spoon’ on the grenade fuze in place during the drop in hopes that, upon impact with the target, the spring-loaded fuze will trip and detonate.

Along with these ‘beverage-related’ drone attack tactics, it is also worth noting that several claims began to surface following the release of the drum magazine photos — stating that the capability was initially conceptualized as a beer delivery system for Heineken breweries. However, it is important to maintain that none of these assertions have been substantiated. That isn’t to say that Heineken isn’t confirmed to have played around with drone-powered beer delivery before, though.

Regardless, this mysteriously modified drone is yet another reminder of the ongoing renaissance of sorts of low-end airpower in the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) domain, and just how fast things are moving. The sheer amount of firepower that the drum magazine could offer a low-end commercial drone underscores a growing trend that may forever change the way that both consumers and militaries look at drones.

Such advancements have made it so that developing robust drone countering capabilities has become a foremost priority for the U.S. Department of Defense. This ‘revolver drone’ concept could go on to present a fearsome level of aerial threat capability on future battlefields, and it isn’t like the evolution came out of left field either.

Smaller, weaponized drones aren’t necessarily anything new. UAV and drone technology has been rapidly heading in this direction for some time if not simply for the cost-reducing and tactical opportunities that it presents. Not only that, but these types of drones are becoming increasingly accessible to not only adversaries but really anybody who may want one.

Homemade drones and other remote-controlled aircraft armed with improvised explosive devices were a prominent tactical development during the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq in 2017, and the United States was not prepared. Despite the large sums of money that quickly went into funding research efforts to better prepare for such threats, including the advent of everything from electronic warfare systems to high-end solid-state laser capabilities to counter them, the threat not only remained but continued to evolve and multiply.

In 2020, U.S. ground forces guarding oil and gas fields in Eastern Syria faced constant drone attacks. It got so bad in the region that now-retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, who was head of U.S. Central Command from 2019 until 2022, had said repeatedly that the threat posed by lower-end drones was among his top worries.

In January 2022, video footage emerged of yet another bomb-dropping drone, except this event took place hundreds of miles away from the Middle Eastern conflict where such threats had been debuted. This time around, the drones were being employed in North America by one of Mexico’s drug cartels during an enemy confrontation. The news had come only a couple of years after it was reported that the cartel had been utilizing suicide drones carrying a single explosive device, with the January 2022 incident acting as proof that cartels had upgraded to bomber-style drones in Mexico.

Simply put, what first predominately terrorized various forces in the Middle East has quickly become a global threat and weapons capability used even by state allies and enemies alike. The fact that two major militaries — one even belonging to an ex-superpower — are both using the same concepts that were put into play by non-state actors just a handful of years ago, and now even include engineered high-capacity bomblet magazines, tells you exactly where this capability is headed. Refinement is the name of the game.

That a little drone, costing thousands of dollars and armed with readily available mortars deployed from a custom magazine, could potentially take out a column of military vehicles, including armored ones, is a cost-per-kill exchange rate that is just too good to pass up and it’s pretty clear everyone is taking notice.

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