The ongoing air conflict over Ukraine has been marked by its intensity and diversity of aerial engagements. However, recorded footage of actual air-to-air encounters has been a rarity. Recently, the Ukrainian Air Force provided a glimpse into one such engagement by releasing a video from the cockpit of a MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter, showcasing the successful takedown of a Russian Orlan drone. While the exact date and location remain undisclosed, the video sheds light on the challenges faced in combating drones.
The video, lasting 48 seconds, offers insights into the cockpit’s head-up display (HUD), showcasing crucial data during the engagement. Notably, the video reveals the MiG-29’s speed, altitude, and radar status. The HUD displays the aircraft’s velocity, which starts at 550 km/h and decreases to 530 km/h at the engagement’s end. Altitude ranges from 560 to 610 meters.
The HUD’s symbology also unveils the activation of the radar (indicated by the letters RL) and later signifies the authorization to launch a missile (PR in Cyrillic). The flashing symbol indicates the missile lock-on process. The subsequent release of a missile is observable, detonating near the MiG-29 in proximity to the target drone. The weapon employed is identified as a radar-homing R-27 series air-to-air missile, recognized as AA-10 Alamo.
The engagement emphasizes the complexities of neutralizing small drones with traditional weaponry, as drones possess limited thermal signatures, challenging heat-seeking missiles’ lock-on capabilities. Despite the efficiency of radar-guided missiles like the AIM-120, the cost-effectiveness of using such advanced weaponry against low-cost drones is questionable.
The targeted drone, an Orlan-series variant, serves multiple purposes, from artillery spotting to electronic warfare. The engagement highlights the difficulties in targeting slow-flying, small-sized drones like the Orlan. Effective drone defense requires extensive radar coverage, a challenge for both ground-based defenses and fighter aircraft.
As drone warfare intensifies on both sides, Ukraine is adapting its defense strategies. The integration of visual surveillance posts and a civilian drone warning app aims to improve situational awareness. Mobile fire groups equipped with various weaponry are employed to counter drones at close range.
Looking forward, the Ukrainian Air Force anticipates enhanced capabilities with the addition of F-16 fighters, equipped with advanced radars that are better suited for detecting and engaging smaller targets. These additions will supplement the existing arsenal against drones, addressing the growing threat posed by these uncrewed aircraft.
In a conflict where drones have become prevalent tools of warfare, adapting to evolving threats remains paramount. While the MiG-29 showcased its ability to counter small drones, the future of drone defense lies in a comprehensive approach that combines advanced aircraft, ground-based systems, and innovative strategies to effectively neutralize these aerial adversaries.