Of Eric Tegler
Ukrainian forces are to receive an anti-aircraft and surface-to-ground precision missile system, which they can use from the back of a truck, SUV or trailer.
The image of heavy weapons mounted on trucks is familiar to Americans who have seen nearly two decades of videos and photos of Taliban and ISIS fighters using trucks and SUVs that look a lot like the one above (center photo). They became so widespread that US special forces began using them in the same way in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
But the heavy machine guns or even shoulder-launched TOMAs they have long possessed are not as versatile as the Vehicle-Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment (VAMPIRE) system the US is sending to Ukraine. This system, manufactured by L3Harris Technologies, will be delivered as a kit that can be mounted on a farm, trailer or hardtop SUV.
According to the company, it can be installed in just two hours using standard tools and can be used by a single person. The kit combines a four-barrel rocket launcher, an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor on a telescoping mast, and a display for managing the weapon. These can operate with Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) missiles or other laser-guided munitions. The APKWS is a 70mm laser-guided Hydra missile system designed and manufactured by BAE Systems.
Although best known as an air-to-air launch system from helicopters such as the US Army’s AH-64 Apache, the Marine Corps’ AH-1Z Viper, or fixed-wing aircraft such as the Air Force’s A-10 and F-16, APKWS also adapts in airborne drones, in various military ground vehicles and now in trucks. APKWS missiles are reportedly capable of engaging fixed and moving targets at ranges of up to approximately 5 km from rotary-wing aircraft or 11 km for fixed-wing aircraft, depending on the aircraft’s speed and altitude.
Since a truck bed won’t offer much in the way of height or speed, the range of the VAMPIRE APKWS controlled is probably in the 400m to 1.6km range depending on the relative altitude of the shooter and the target . The range for the other laser-guided munitions the VAMPIRE can use would theoretically be similar.
While this may limit surface-to-surface strikes to line-of-sight or slightly beyond, L3 has not confirmed or denied whether VAMPIRE’s fire control can cooperate and receive targeting data from off-board sensors.
If such a partnership is possible, using the Vampire in conjunction with manned or unmanned aircraft could allow the Ukrainians to significantly extend targeting beyond the range of the WESCAM MX-10 EO/IR independent sighting system enclosed in the sphere sensors.
VAMPIRE is also expected to be used to shoot down Russian drones. APKWS Hydra missiles or other laser-guided missiles it can use could use approach detonators to disable non-direct-hit targets. In fact, the Pentagon describes VAMPIRE primarily as a counter-drone system. Instead, L3Harris wants to emphasize the versatility of the VAMPIRE.
“It’s a low-cost, rapidly deployable weapon system that gives ground forces the ability to quickly and accurately engage targets on the ground or in the air. So no, it’s not just for countering drones, it’s multi-purpose,” the spokesperson confirms by L3Harris, Paul Swiergosz.
Ukrainian forces have already adapted similar PGM systems, such as the Czech Republic’s RM-70 VAMPIR 122mm multiple launch rocket system, for use against drones. However, the Czech system, designed by Excalibur Army, is generally mounted on a large military vehicle.
The L3 system is mounted on the platform of a rural in a configuration similar to other vehicle sensor/weapon mounts. Swiergosz says it incorporates a stabilization/balancing device, but it can work in significant out-of-level stances. “We did a lot of testing in unprepared, austere locations and found that there is no need for finer leveling adjustments.”
The VAMPIRE is self-powered via a built-in battery so it doesn’t need to rely on a vehicle’s charging system to supply the 24 volts it requires. Fire/aiming control is performed via a tablet screen that can be mounted inside the cabin of the agricultural or other vehicle and operated by a basic trained operator. The display is customizable according to vehicle and durability requirements and L3Harris has several options.
The ability to mount the VAMPIRE on a variety of different platforms, including trucks, will make it more difficult for Russian forces to target and in turn give the Ukrainians plenty of alternatives for distributing the fire it can bring to different vehicles.
Given the creativity the Ukrainians have consistently demonstrated, it is very likely that they will seek to temporarily adapt the VAMPIRE to fixed platforms such as buildings or towers, increasing its surface strike or drone interception range.
Details of VAMPIRE’s inclusion in the $3 billion aid package for Ukraine announced Wednesday by the Pentagon have not yet been determined, the company said. L3 has not received a formal contract, exact order numbers or requirements from the Department of Defense.
“We expect these requests to be communicated in the coming days so that a contract can be signed and when it is signed we can immediately begin work in support of this important security assistance initiative,” Swiergosz said.
“Regardless of the supply chain issues, we are very confident that we can deliver within the nine-month delivery window that the Ministry of Defense has indicated.”
Ukraine would certainly like to receive the VAMPIRE kits as soon as possible, given the pressure Russian forces are putting on it with drones (now supplied by Iran) and medium-range artillery/missiles. The system will not be entirely new, as the Ukrainians are already familiar with other equipment supplied by L3Harris, from advanced tactical radios and SATCOM terminals to night vision sensors and electro-optical sensors.
VAMPIRE could be a useful tool to be used intelligently by Ukraine. The US just needs to move it there.