Drone-killing vampires to be in Ukraine next year, Pentagon says

WASHINGTON — The US aims to send Ukraine the Vampire counter-drone system by mid-2023, with an order expected within months, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

The Pentagon announced on Aug. 24 it would be sending the system, a laser-guided missile launcher that can be quickly installed on a civilian truck bed, as part of a larger weapons package. But despite Russia’s expanded use of Iranian-made kamikaze drones to attack Ukraine’s power plants and other vital infrastructure, the Pentagon has yet to approve a contract to supply the system.

“Air defense remains a priority that we will continue to focus on and work on as soon as possible,” Pentagon Air Force Brig press secretary said Gen. Pat Ryder. “Regarding the vampires, we expect an order to be placed within the next few months, and at the moment we anticipate delivery in mid-2023.”

Manufactured by L3Harris, the vehicle-independent modular palletized ISR missile rig uses laser-guided munitions to hit ground or air targets, including unmanned aerial systems.

According to a company spokesman, L3Harris expects to deliver the Vampire within the Pentagon’s required 9-month window once the company is signed.

In recent days, the Biden administration has said that Iranian troops are deployed directly on the ground in Crimea to support Russian drone strikes on Ukraine’s infrastructure. Russia has used a mix of missiles and loitering munitions attacks over the past four weeks to drain Ukraine of power as temperatures drop as winter begins.

Time is of the essence for Ukraine and its allies. With no new Russian units available yet, Russia’s ability to conduct ground operations is at rock bottom. “Now Ukraine’s partners must lay the groundwork for a military victory in 2023,” the London-based Royal United Services Institute said in a new assessment.

Although Ukrainian forces claim to have shot down more than 1,400 enemy drones over the course of the war, Kyiv has called for additional air defense systems. The US and NATO have responded positively, as the US Secretary of Defense mentioned the need at a NATO press conference last month, saying Washington is working to connect Ukraine’s patchwork of air defense systems.

These systems include Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the US and other Russian-made S-300 medium-range air defense systems, Hawk medium-range air defense systems from Spain, and truck-mounted IRIS-T systems from Germany. The United States is about to deliver the National Advanced Surface-to-Air medium-range missile system, co-produced by Raytheon and Norway’s Kongsberg.

On Tuesday, Ryder noted that Ukraine’s armed forces have already demonstrated their ability to integrate air defenses, “particularly, for example, when it comes to taking out a significant percentage of Iranian drones.”

Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, government and the defense industry. He was previously a convention reporter.

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