Just days after Russia announced that it is halting the export of its ZALA Lancet Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that have shown exceptional performance in the Ukraine war, the frontline Russian troops have started using the brand new ‘Scalpel’ UAV, which is a cheaper analog of the Lancet.
Russian state news agency TASS reported on November 18 that Russian units began to use the new Scalpel munition in the so-called special operation zone.
“We have started small-scale production of the Scalpel platform; currently, 20 are produced monthly. If necessary, production can be significantly expanded. At the moment, one batch of ‘Scalpels’ in the amount of 15 products has been delivered to the SVO zone,” the manufacturer of the Scalpel drone, Vostok Design Bureau, was quoted as saying.
Russian servicemen have reportedly highlighted the expendable drone’s excellent handling and ease of operation. “Reviews from pilots are mostly positive – the device is well controlled, accurate, stable when diving, and easy to aim. The fighters also note the product’s simplicity in preparation for the flight,” the Vostok Design Bureau said.
The platform has been projected as a less expensive version of the well-known Russian kamikaze drone ‘Lancet’ manufactured by the Kalashnikov concern’s ZALA subsidiary. The manufacturer noted that there were several areas where the Scalpel fell short as compared to the Lancet. Still, those shortfalls were understandable, given the significantly lower cost of the Scalpel drone.
A single Scalpel drone costs 300 thousand rubles, not including the payload price. Vostok further emphasized that the Scalpel differs significantly from “Lancet” because it has a target-capturing mechanism and a camera.
The drone deployment is two months after Vostok Design Bureau conducted the test flights of the brand-new, multi-purpose, single-use platform in early September. At the time, the manufacturer revealed that the drone was meant for combat against Ukraine and would enter mass production by October 2023.
Russian Telegrams are reporting that the first batch of “Scalpel” loitering munitions ( a smaller “budget” version of Lancet) is ready for use in eastern Ukraine: “….there are not enough Lancets – that’s a fact. We are not competing (with Lancet) – we just want to deliver the… https://t.co/gw70EfZ4HZ pic.twitter.com/5Mqd9Jo8J9
— Samuel Bendett (@sambendett) November 2, 2023
The platform, meant for the Russian Army, is designed to have various warheads to accomplish different tasks. “”e tried to make the platform as versatile as possible. The payload compartment is made with a diameter of 125 mm and a length of 650 mm, with the expectation that each unit will independently decide which warhead to deploy based on its capabilities,” a previous statement from the manufacturer said.
The platform includes a fixed payload of 5 kilograms, a take-off weight of 10.5 kilograms, a 120-kilometer/hour cruising speed, and a 40-kilometre flight range. “The platform will have an affordable price. Some components of the device are foreign-made, but to a high degree, it is a Russian product. The platform is distinguished by its compact size for such a payload weight, maximum energy efficiency, and ease of manufacture and use,” the developer of the UAV noted.
In the ongoing conflict, suicide attacks have become an essential component of Russian raids. Despite reports in Ukrainian media suggesting that Russia is fast depleting its stock of kamikaze drones, the Russian kamikaze drone attacks have persisted.
However, a recent announcement by some Russian officials has given rise to speculation that Moscow is reeling under a shortage of these drones.
Russia Has A Lancet Shortage
Rosoboronexport Director General Alexander Mikheyev revealed at the Dubai Airshow 2023 International Aviation and Space Exhibition on November 15 that foreign customers are showing considerable interest in the Lancet UAV. However, the director noted that the drone was currently unavailable for export.
In Russia’s aerial strikes against Ukraine, two drones have emerged as the most commonly used — the Iranian Shahed-class drones and Russia’s homegrown ZALA Lancet loitering munitions. The latter has gained international attention and has become infamous for wreaking havoc on Ukrainian tanks and other military vehicles, especially in the June counteroffensive undertaken by Ukrainian troops.
Kyiv’s already complicated and drawn-out counteroffensive efforts have been made more difficult by the economically efficient Lancet suicide drones, which have persistently showcased their effectiveness in neutralizing Ukraine’s valuable military assets donated by the West.
The name “Lancet” is believed to be inspired by the precision linked to the sharp medical instrument to highlight the drone’s ability to target with surgical precision. The exceptional combat performance displayed by the Lancet loitering mention has also meant that the West has singled it out with sanctions.
Earlier this month, the United States blacklisted a dozen Russian companies supporting Russia’s military with drones that could be used to aid in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
In addition, Washington also imposed sanctions on 130 entities across China, Turkey, and the UAE accused of supplying components actively being used by the Russian military. The move aimed to curtail the loopholes in critical supply chains used by Russia to procure parts that it cannot directly source from the market owing to Western sanctions.
Due to these loopholes, organizations from all three nations can supply Russia with “high-priority dual-use goods,” including encryption software or auto parts that are useful for both military and civilian purposes.
Interestingly, this marks the first time that the United States has moved against the production of Russia’s Lancet suicide drones. According to Ukrainian soldiers, the drone, a grey, angular tube with two sets of four wings, is becoming a more significant threat on the front lines.
The restriction on export of the Lancet has given the impression that Moscow has depleted its stockpiles. In July this year, the Ukrainian military said that Russia had just over 50 Lancet drones, and as of August, the Russians were known to have used some 850 Lancet drones.
Although Lancet hasn’t disappeared from the Ukrainian battlefield since rumors of its shortage started swirling, the export restrictions signal that Russia hasn’t been able to produce enough Lancet drones.
This situation could get worse with the new US sanctions. This makes the introduction of the Scalpel to the frontline more intriguing. Although the Scalpel is not as good as the Lancet, it is cheaper and readily available.