On July 16, 2023, the television programme “Russia 1” broadcast a report about manufacturing “ZALA AERO GROUP Unmanned Systems.” The “ZALA AERO GROUP Unmanned Systems” is a subsidiary of the “Kalashnikov Concern,” a publicly traded joint-stock company. The “Product 53” loitering munition, a new variety of the “Lancet” loitering munition series, was made public for the first time during this report. This newly developed model was housed in a transport-launch container with wings that could be folded. The report provides specific information regarding the breakthroughs and developments made by ZALA AERO GROUP in producing loitering munitions.
ZALA AERO is responsible for the organisation of the manufacturing of the “Lancet” loitering munition series, which takes place in the facilities of a former shopping centre in Izhevsk. It has been asserted that the manufacture of these weapons has increased by more than three times in just one year.
As a reminder, the loitering munition “Lancet” was presented for the very first time by ZALA AERO during the International Military-Technical Forum known as “Army-2019” in June 2019. Production on a large scale began in 2020, and the munitions had their first usage in the open during military actions in Syria at the beginning of 2021. Since 2022, they have been used in various covert military operations in Ukraine.
According to the reports, munition production began in 2022 with two distinct varieties.
“Product 52” (X-52, with “X” denoting the X-shaped wings) is the name given to the standard version of the weapon, which is most likely called “Lancet-3.” It has a total weight of 12 kilograms, a warhead that weighs 3 kilograms, and two wings in the shape of an X. “Product 53” (X-53) is the designation given to the improved and more powerful variant that has a warhead that weighs 5 kilograms and an X-shaped wing. In addition, there is a more compact variant of the weapon known as the “Lancet-1” or “Product 51” (X-51), which has a warhead that weighs one kilogramme.
The munition is continuously being improved, including installing various types of warheads. Speculations have been about a variant with a warhead with a core that can penetrate targets. The current iterations are each launched into the air by a lightweight catapult.
The new “Product 53” variation has wings that can be folded in, and it is launched from a container that is designed to transport and launch it. These containers can be carried separately or combined into transportable blocks, enabling swarm usage.
The new Lancet features an innovative launcher explicitly designed for it, and the drone is entirely safe from countermeasures. Alexander Zakharov, the head designer of ZALA Aero, did not provide specifics but stated that it would be “practically impossible to fight” with “Product 53.”
The new version of the “Lancet,” as the designers imagined it, is designed for the so-called concept of network-centric warfare. This entails the control of a united “swarm” of kamikaze drones using a neural network, followed by the detection and selection of targets by each member of this “swarm.” In other words, the “swarm” of drones will act as a single entity.
The automatic system has already been designed and put through its paces of testing on earlier generations of the Lancet loitering munitions. According to Zaharova, the “Lancet” munition has already been employed in fully autonomous mode during active combat, without any involvement from a human operator. The drone’s operator is only responsible for giving directions regarding which targets to look for and engage; the system is responsible for carrying out all necessary activities.
Superior to Switchblade-600
The Lancet is the superior option compared to its American counterpart, the Switchblade-600. Both its manoeuvrability and its ability to dive are improved as a result of the X-shaped design of the wings.
The Russian Orlan reconnaissance drone commonly collaborates with the kamikaze drone to complete missions. The Lancet launches an attack against the target that Orlan has located.
Videos uploaded to pro-Russian social networks depict Lancet drones damaging or destroying Western material donated to Ukraine, including a Leopard 2 tank and a Caesar self-propelled howitzer. Four Ukrainian artillery crews identified these drones as one of the most significant threats they faced on the battlefield. Several Ukrainian personnel have reported that the Lancet has been used more frequently recently.
The Lancet appears capable of inflicting much damage but has an explosive capacity lower than that of an artillery round or most missiles.
Due to the lack of a credible defence against Lancets, Ukrainian soldiers use small arms to attempt to bring it down. According to one soldier, the Lancet flies at 100 km/h, making its destruction with small weapons difficult.