VAMPIREs in Ukraine: L3’s New Rocket System


    1. Intro to the VAMPIRE

    The Ukrainian battlefields are now the proving ground for L3’s new modular, pallet-based rocket system designed to mount to any truck with a flatbed. Ever since the appearance of the Shahed-136 kamikaze drone otherwise known as loitering munitions Ukraine has been struggling to protect its skies. The Vampire system could offer a relatively cheap solution to combat the menace from above.

    “Air defense continues to be a priority, it’s something we’re going to continue to stay focused on and work as quickly as we can,” he added. “In reference to the Vampires, we do expect a contract award within the next few months, and right now we’re anticipating delivery to be in mid 2023.”

    On the 24th of August Ukraine celebrated its day of independence from the Soviet Union. The day was markedly somber thanks to the Russian occupation. However, on the same day, the US Congress passed a US$2.98 billion dollar military aid package for Ukraine. Among other things, the package includes multiple VAMPIRE rocket systems. (Source)

    VAMPIRE system mounted to a Toyota Tacoma. (Source)

    2. What is the VAMPIRE

    The Vehicle-Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment or VAMPIRE is designed by L3 Harris, a US defence contractor known for their radios, EO Tech sights, and a multitude of technological innovations. The VAMPIRE is a compact and palletized rocket launching platform. Designed to be mounted on any flat surface, the VAMPIRE can convert an average pickup truck into rocket launching technical. There are three main components to the system:

    • The enhanced optical targeting system
    • The munitions
    • The palletized, self-contained mount

    2.1. WESCAM MX-10 RSTA

    The WESCAM MX-10 RSTA is L3’s name for the digital targeting system used on the VAMPIRE. However, it is not unique to the VAMPIRE, and it has seen use on amphibious, armored, and reconnaissance vehicles. The VAMPIRE uses the optical system on a telescoping mast, allowing the operators to raise the camera out of cover or concealment to acquire targets for its rockets. (Source) The optical suite includes but is not limited to:

    • Thermal cameras
    • Color-enhanced IR night vision
    • Optical zoom
    • Laser rangefinder
    • IR target marker
    • Image smoothing and blending between the optics and thermals
    • Internal stabilization
    • Haze penetration
    • Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU)

    WESCAM MX-10 optical system. (Source)

    2.2. Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II

    The VAMPIRE is primarily uses the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II (APKWS) rockets. The APKWS is a 70mm laser-guided rocket that cost US$27,500 per unit. (Source) These rockets are extremely accurate and have been primarily used on fixed and rotary wing aircraft. However, the VAMPIRE features a pod with four of these rockets. The rocket’s range varies greatly depending on its launch platform.

    Vampire system Rocket Pod
    The VAMPIRE’s APKWS rocket tube. (Source)

    On a helicopter it typically peaks at 5 km (3 mi) and when fired from a plane its range is around 11 km (7 mi). (Source) When fired from the VAMPIRE  the APKWS’s range is significantly shorter. Although, just how much shorter is unknown. However, the APKWS isn’t the only munition the VAMPIRE is capable of firing. The VAMPIRE can use a wide variety of laser-guided munitions. (Source)

    2.3. The Pallet

    The VAMPIRE brings a very unique capability to the battlefield via its pallet mount design. The unit is a self-contained system. Meaning that the system comes with its own power supply. Two people with common tools can set up the system in under two hours. (Source) The intent is to provide users with a rapid solution for arming non-tactical vehicles. Essentially, the user bolts the pallet to any vehicle with a flat surface large enough and the mounts the control module to the dashboard. The user can also mount the VAMPIRE to the ground or any flat surface.

    The VAMPIRE’s control system. (Source)

    3. Potential Uses of the VAMPIRE

    The VAMPIRE rocket system has a variety of uses, some obvious and others less so. L3’s palletized design in conjunction with its simple and quick setup provide a Pandora’s Box of implementation. The US government is primarily pitching the system as a counter UAV weapon. The intent is to track and shoot down enemy drones as well as potentially slow-moving helicopters. L3 prominently displays this capability in the VAMPIRE’s promotional material. However, the system is also capable of attacking ground targets via laser designation. The with the help of the advanced optical targeting system the rockets are extremely accurate and produce minimal collateral damage.

    Images from the VAMPIRE’s targeting system. (Source)

    Having the ability for a quick rocket strike can be the difference between life and death. While an enemy bunker has assault forces pinned down, a truck equipped with the VAMPIRE system could easily pull into cover or concealment. From there the operators can raise the targeting sensor out of cover, laser designates the bunker, and eliminate the threat.

    Additionally, the VAMPIREs enhanced optical system and missile range could allow for more hunter-killer-type missions. Driving the truck up to a vantage point and turning on the thermal imaging would reveal enemies even if there in concealment.

    3.1. Covert Potential

     At face value, this doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the battlefield, outside of converting non-standard vehicles into technicals. However, the conversion of a truck into a rocket-firing technical is not something unheard of. What is of particular interest is the self-contained, palletized system and quick install time.

    A little ingenuity can go a long way on the battlefield, and Ukraine is no exception. Guerilla forces often use “shoot and scoot” tactics. The VAMPIRE system is perfect for covert use by partisan forces. Operators could remove the rocket pod from its mount and install a camper top onto the back of a pickup truck. This would provide concealment from enemy observation and aerial surveillance. Subsequently, partisan forces could manoeuvre the system behind enemy lines to hastily set up, strike targets, and re-conceal before exiting the area.

    The palletization of the system would allow multiple to be mounted on a semi-truck trailer. Resourceful guerillas could modify an enclosed trailer with openings, allowing the cameras and missiles to be quickly deployed and hidden. With a self-contained and easy-to-install system like the VAMPIRE, the possibilities are only limited to the end user’s imagination.

    4. Summary

    L3’s new VAMPIRE system provides Ukrainian forces with a whole new tool for their arsenal. Trucks that previously would have been modified to use a heavy machine gun now have the potential to carry far more firepower.

    The system’s optical suite allows the user to see enemies day and night at extended ranges. The APKWS rockets provide infantry with a highly accurate yet devastating weapon to attack enemies in the sky and on the ground. And the whole package is easy to install and implement. Ukraine is the first to use this new weapon system and it will have a trail by fire. However, it is almost certain that the VAMPIRE will become a mainstay anywhere Western forces fight unconventional warfare.

    Jordan Smith
    Jordan Smith
    Jordan is currently working on his undergraduate degree at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. He is majoring in International Politics with a concentration in Security Studies and a minor in Russian language.

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