What appears to be the first definitive picture of a U.S.-supplied VAMPIRE counter-drone system for Ukraine has emerged. The last of a batch of 14 of these systems, which use laser-guided 70mm rockets as effectors and are now known to be mounted on Humvees, are set to be delivered to the Ukrainian military before the end of the year. Lower-quality imagery has previously been seen of Humvees armed with 70mm laser-guided rockets engaging targets on the ground.
The U.S. Navy's Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) released a picture, seen at the top of this story, of one of the Humvee-mounted VAMPIREs being loaded onto a U.S. Air Force C-17A Globemaster III cargo aircraft earlier today. The picture was taken in September at an unspecified location.
NAVAIR's Direct and Time Sensitive Strike program office, or PMA-242, has been managing the delivery of the VAMPIRE systems to Ukraine. The Pentagon first announced that it would buy examples of VAMPIRE (an acronym that stands for Vehicle-Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment) on Ukraine's behalf using Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) funding back in August 2022. A total of 14 of these systems were subsequently purchased for Ukraine.
"We delivered the first four systems in only six months by leveraging an innovative contracting strategy and working diligently to keep pace with the system’s rapid development," Navy Cmdr. Kevin Raspet, the Foreign Military Sales deputy program manager within PMA-242, said in a statement today. The Navy says it expects the last of these systems to arrive in Ukraine by the end of this month.
The Pentagon previously confirmed that VAMPIRE was in operational use in Ukraine in August.
The complete VAMPIRE system, for which L3Harris is the prime contractor, consists of three main components. These are a turreted four-round LAND-LGR4 70mm launcher loaded with laser-guided Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II (APKWS II) rockets, a sensor turret (typically seen in the marketing literature mounted on an extendable mast to give it a better line-of-sight), and a fire control system. VAMPIRE is also designed to be readily integrated onto any suitably sized vehicle. You can read more about the core system in this past War Zone story.
The picture that NAVAIR has now released shows that Ukraine's VAMPIREs are integrated onto M1152A1 Humvees. The M1152A1 is a two-door up-armored Humvee type with a pickup truck-style rear end. The turreted LAND-LGR4 launcher is installed on the rear bed.
The system's sensor turret looks to be mounted on top of the cab. It is seen underneath a camouflage cover in the picture and it is unclear whether or not it is installed on a mast of some kind.
While we can't see the fire control system in the picture from NAVAIR, L3Harris' marketing literature has shown that it is small enough to be installed inside a typical truck cab.
There are also distinct differences between the known VAMPIRE-equipped Humvee we now have a picture of and those of M1152A1s armed with LAND-LGR4s that have been seen in service in Ukraine previously. Most notably, the latter vehicles did not appear to have a sensor turret of any kind installed. The mounts used to attach the LAND-LGR4 launchers to the earlier vehicles were also distinctly different from the type associated with the VAMPIRE system.
At the same time, NAVAIR's statement that it was able to deliver four VAMPIREs within six months of the project starting, at least on its end, raises the possibility that Ukraine may have received multiple variations of the system. The LAND-LGR4-armed vehicles seen in use in Ukraine earlier this year were also observed being used to attack targets on the ground. However, VAMPIRE has a latent ground attack capability on top of its primary surface-to-air functionality.
"Early reports indicate the weapon system is having an immediate impact in the ongoing Ukrainian wartime effort," Navy Capt. Alex Dutko, PMA-242 program manager, said in a statement about the VAMPIRES delivered to date. "This activity is another example of our team responding to urgent requirements with unprecedented speed and agility."
Even before the first VAMPIREs arrived in Ukraine, APKWS II rockets had demonstrated their capability to engage certain types of drones and cruise missiles when launched from ground-based platforms, as well as aircraft.
For the Ukrainian armed forces, VAMPIRE offers an important additional counter-drone tool. Russian forces make regular use of Iranian-designed kamikaze drones for strikes against targets deep inside Ukraine. This has only become more pronounced as Russia's stocks of long-range ballistic and cruise missiles have dwindled.
In addition, Russian forces have been making major use of domestically developed kamikaze drones closer to the front lines, including against Ukrainian aircraft parked at air bases, air defense assets, and other high-value targets.
At the same time, many of Ukraine's drone-hunting teams are equipped with a hodgepodge of older, if not thoroughly obsolete weapons. They also rely on a variety of improvised equipment, including high-power laser pointers and hand-held spotlights, to try to spot and track incoming threats, often at night. VAMPIRE offers a far more precise means of engaging enemy drones together with a very capable targeting system that works after dark and during the day.
Ukrainian forces do use higher-end air defense assets to knock down incoming drones, but those systems are also in great demand to protect against higher-tier threats. Altogether, it is not surprising to hear from the Navy that units in Ukraine have been making good use of VAMPIRE.
As already noted, Ukrainian forces have shown the value of Humvees with LAND-LGR4 launchers as a means to engage targets on the ground, as well.
VAMPIRE use in Ukraine also provides additional validation of the general concept of using APKWS II rockets against aerial threats. The U.S. military is also working to acquire ground-based air systems that utilize APKWS II and the LAND-LGR4 launcher. This includes a containerized system that the U.S. Army has been evaluating and that you can read more about here.
The U.S. Air Force has also been exploring the use of APKWS II rockets as a lower-cost option for combat jets to use to engage cruise missiles and drones.
The U.S. military, and other armed forces around the world, are becoming more and more concerned about threats posed by cruise missiles and drones. Weaponized commercial drones have become a particular danger on and off conventional battlefields, and the barrier to entry to employing them is low.
Separate from the effort to get the VAMPIRE systems to Ukraine, NAVAIR's PMA-242 has been working with defense contractor BAE Systems on a new proximity-fuze warhead for use with APKWS II that is optimized primarily for use against lower-tier drones. One of the key benefits of the APKWS II design, overall, is the ability for the laser guidance package to be readily combined with any one of a variety of standardized warheads and then be attached to a standard 70mm rocket motor.
The Navy expects the first examples of the counter-drone proximity warhead, which includes a radiofrequency sensor and also has the ability to engage targets in a point-detonating mode, to be available to U.S. forces soon.
When it comes to VAMPIRE, if nothing else, we have now gotten a conclusive look at one of these valuable systems as they have been provided to Ukraine.
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