The army buys Gladius drones. Another major purchase of unmanned aerial vehicles by the Department of National Defense

The Ukrainian army already has and is increasingly receiving kamikaze drones of several types. Their only significant limitation is the communication range and the fact that they are not part of a compatible system. They could fly tens of kilometers on their own, reaching sensitive and valuable targets in the hinterland of Russian troops, but there is a problem with maintaining a radio connection with them at a distance greater than about 20 kilometers. . Physics can’t be fooled. The spherical shape of the Earth and the terrain prevent it.

There are different solutions to this problem. What we buy under the Gladius program is demonstrated by one of them. In addition, several contracts signed in recent months show that the Polish army may soon have a very good system of cooperating unmanned aerial vehicles.

An unmanned duo

The Ministry of National Defense officially announces that the contract signed on Friday with the Polish company Grupa WB provides for “the delivery of 4 battery modules of the GLADIUS unmanned search and shock systems as well as training and logistics packages”. According to general information, 4 battery modules means “several hundred” drones (formerly BSP – Unmanned Systems / Aircraft). The first deliveries should take place this year. Unmanned search and shock systems, on the other hand, mean a combination of two flying machines with complementary capabilities. The value of the total order should be around two billion zlotys.

The first and largest element of the system is the FT-5 reconnaissance drone. It is a piston aircraft with a wingspan of six meters. It must serve as the eyes and messenger of the whole system, that is, to observe the area, detect the enemy, and then assist in its destruction by its smaller companions. The cameras installed must allow recognition both by day and by night, or in the fog thanks to the use of thermal imaging. The FT-5 is said to be able to stay in the air for up to 10 hours, circling at altitudes of up to five kilometers.

These smaller companions are also drones from Grupa WB, officially called BSP-U (for shock) Gladius. From the outside, similar to the previously presented Warmate 2, but different from them, although it is not officially specified how exactly. Gladius are what are colloquially known as kamikaze drones. The main task of the machine is to fly into the target and detonate its warhead. As the BSP-U’s abilities were not mentioned, they can only be speculated based on what has been said about similar Warmates 2. Wingspan about 2.5 meters, explosive warhead weighing about five kilograms. Maximum flight time approximately two hours. Take off with a car-mounted catapult. Transported folded in the original container.

The principle of operation of the entire Gladius system (named after the classic sword of the Roman legionaries) is to be such that the FT-5 circulates somewhere in the combat area and detects targets. On the other hand, smaller BSP-U attack machines are sent in their direction. The FT-5 is also supposed to serve as a retlanser (perhaps even its main task), that is, a flying radio transmitter, significantly extending the practical range of shock drones. Not mentioned, about 20 kilometers, resulting from the maximum “sight” range of the radio transmitter of the operator standing on the ground, and the drone he pilots, flying at a low altitude of several hundred meters. The operator’s signal, given by the FT-5 flying a few kilometers away, will likely be able to reach the shock drone flying over a hundred kilometers away. On the promotional graphics of the WB group, in cooperation with the FT-5, the Warmate 2 shock wave even reached 240 kilometers.

Another important part of the whole system is the Topaz communication and control system, also from the WB group. It has been used by Polish artillery units for many years. It is a modern and largely automated system which allows the rapid exchange of information between, for example, reconnaissance drone operators, the commander at the command post, the howitzer and mortar crews and the shock drone operators. A necessary thing on the modern battlefield, where shortening reaction time and coordination are of great importance. In general, the entire Gladius system is something you won’t find even in the most modern NATO armies. It really is something avant-garde.

Drone awakening

The purchase of this type of system, developed and manufactured in Poland, can only be applauded. The war in Ukraine clearly shows how important drones can be on the battlefield. Fighting them turns out to be a much bigger challenge for the Russians than expected. It is not coincidental that one of the elements of US military aid to Ukraine are suicide drones. The Americans say this is the result of the demand reported by the Ukrainians. Compared to the American drones delivered to Ukraine and the WB Group Warmate drones also used there, the Gladius system is much larger and more complex. It is conceivable that it is perfectly suited for attacking sensitive targets in the hinterland of Russian troops. Command posts, air defense posts, artillery positions, ammunition and fuel depots.

Importantly, the contract for the Gladius system is another in a series of contracts recently signed for the purchase of drones. In February, an agreement was signed for further deliveries of Flyeye light reconnaissance drones, also from the WB group. Purchasing 11 sets (each with multiple machines) will actually double their possession in Ground Forces units. At the end of April, a contract was signed for the supply of an undetermined number of Warmate kamikaze drones. So far, only about 100 of them have been purchased in 2017, which went to the Territorial Defense Forces. In December 2021, other reconnaissance drones, smaller than the Flyeye, called the Viewer, were purchased. About 100 machines will be manufactured by Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa, although deliveries will not take place before 2024-2027.

Also, a year ago, the Turkish TB2 Bayraktar was purchased, which are much larger machines capable of carrying out air raids. At that time, their purchase was criticized by many specialists, since it seemed that such machines would not survive Russian anti-aircraft defense. However, it turned out to be much more leaky than expected and the balance sheet of this purchase should be reconsidered, although there is still disgust, because with more ambition and the support of the Ministry of National Defense , we could try to create a similar one in Poland. It is possible that, despite this, other TB2s will be ordered under the Gryf program. In February, even larger American MQ-9 Reaper drones were also purchased in emergency mode, but it is not known how many and for how much. However, other machines of this heaviest class must be purchased under the Zefir program.

If existing purchases were supplemented by a large-scale order of simple micro-class reconnaissance drones, the type used by civilians for entertainment, the Polish military would become a veritable drone powerhouse. Moreover, it is largely due to Polish industry. Work is still ongoing at PGZ on Orlik reconnaissance drones, which are between Flyeye and Bayraktars in size. After problems, changes in military expectations and a complete change in the design of the machine, work on it had to go straight and really come to an end.

Everything suggests that after years of stagnation, which is difficult to explain rationally, in the purchase of drones for the Polish Armed Forces, the war in the East has awakened the Ministry of National Defense. The ministry’s senseless war with the private arms industry (mainly the WB group), initiated by Antoni Macierewicz, has been stopped. With a great advantage not only for the “privateers”, but even more so for our soldiers.

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