Russia’s ‘Autonomous’ Anti-Helicopter Mines – Also Threat to Civilian Airliners?

PACIFIC OCEAN -- Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Henry, an aviation boatswains mate from Pearl City, Hawaii, guides an AH-1Z "Viper SuperCobra" landing aboard USS Makin Island Oct. 5. The attack helicopter was piloted by Capt. Travis Patterson and 1st Lt. Michael Tetreault, who serve with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, aka Scarface. / Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Preston Reed

As part of Vladimir Putin’s ongoing effort to make Russia a military powerhouse again, or at least a powerhouse weapons maker and seller, Russia is now producing innovative mines designed to take down enemy helicopters. And the helicopter-heavy U.S. Army is taking the threat seriously.

According to Michael Peck in 19fortyfive:

The U.S. Army was worried enough that it put out a research solicitation in 2017 to develop countermeasures to aviation mines. “Rotary wing aircraft have technical and operational vulnerabilities that include flight below 1000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL), a unique set of audio signatures as well as the operational requirement to land on short notice on unsecured terrain,” the Army solicitation said.

And why are helicopters vulnerable below 1,000 feet? Well, small arms fire, and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) are one danger, but now they also face the more serious threat of acoustic-infrared triggered ‘aviation mines.’

Peck adds:

“Aviation mines reportedly function by using an acoustic-infrared sensor to first identify the noise of an aircraft at up to 3.2 kilometers and then launch a projectile at the identified aircraft when it is within 150 meters,” according to the U.S. Army’s OE Watch magazine, which monitors foreign military developments.

“Although currently fielded Russian aviation mines can only hit low flying targets at a very short distance, their employment could greatly complicate Russia’s adversaries’ efforts to protect airfields, drop zones, and any other place where aircraft may fly low.”

And this includes fixed-wing aircraft during landing. “Even heavy bombers and military transport aircraft reduce their speed to 280-320 kilometers per hour, and flight altitude — down to 100-200 meters, when on landing approach,” wrote Russian defense magazine Military Industrial Courier (Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer (VPK), according to 19fortyfive.

But these aren’t just kinetic weapons. The Russians also see them as psychological weapons. “An important role was also assigned to psychologically impacting the helicopter crew, who realize the danger of being detonated and involuntarily elevate the flight altitude of the aircraft, thus making it more vulnerable to [more traditional] means of air defense,” VPK noted.

Originally designed by Russia in the late 1990s to block potential helicopter landing zones, Peck notes that “they can also be covertly emplaced by commandos to shut down enemy airfields.”

VPK wrote: “Anti-helicopter mines are the ideal means for organizing mine ambushes on presumed routes of the flight of enemy helicopters and light aircraft, capable of significantly supplementing traditional air defense weapons.”

However, beyond the threat to U.S. and allied military helicopters, if obtained by terrorists, these Russian autonomous, acoustic-infrared, aviation mines could be especially dangerous to civilian aircraft. As Peck concludes:

Since the 1970s, airliners have been vulnerable to shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles launched by terrorists. If terrorists get their hands on these weapons, seeding a major international airport with missile-spewing anti-aircraft mines is a frightening possibility. ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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