An unmanned aerial vehicle is displayed at the ARMY 2019 International Military and Technical Forum, in Kubinka, Moscow region, Russia
PC : Sputnik / Mikhail Voskresenskiy

The Lancet drone belongs to the category of loitering air munition, i.e. a weapon system which “loiters” around a target area while in search mode. When a target is found, the “kamikaze drone” strikes it like a guided air-to-surface missile while also destroying itself.

Designed by ZALA Aero, one of the Kalashnikov Group’s companies, the UAV got its name – “the Lancet” – not only due to its exterior design, but also because of its high precision. It has a range of 40 km and can hit its target with “surgical precision,” according to the manufacturers.

The Kalashnikov Group presented the Lancet in June 2019. At that time, the Russian state corporation Rostec outlined the UAV system’s advantages:

first, the loitering air munition saves time because it is already deployed in the air, ready and waiting to strike the enemy;

secondly, it’s small, light, and made of plastic and composite materials – it’s therefore “invisible” to traditional air defence radars;

thirdly, it’s considerably cheaper to strike a target with a kamikaze drone than to destroy it with a high-precision projectile, which requires a self-propelled gun with a crew and a gunner.

An unmanned aerial vehicle is displayed at the ARMY 2019 International Military and Technical Forum, in Kubinka, Moscow region, Russia


An unmanned aerial vehicle is displayed at the ARMY 2019 International Military and Technical Forum, in Kubinka, Moscow region, Russia

The Lancet is produced in various versions, boasting an operational range of up to 40 km and speeds of 80-110 km/h. It can carry a payload of up to 3 kg, having a maximum gross takeoff weight of 5 kg (the Lancet-1) and 12 kg (the Lancet-3).

The drone has a double X-shaped tail which bolsters both its manoeuvrability and stability in nosedive mode. “Double X is our absolute know-how,” highlighted General Director of ZALA Aero Alexander Zakharov in August 2019, as quoted by Rostec. In addition, this aerodynamic configuration helps reduce the UAV’s size, according to the designers.

But that’s not all: the UAV is “smart,” “multipurpose,” and capable of autonomously finding and hitting the target. The Lancet is equipped with a precision strike component, as well as reconnaissance, navigation, and communications modules.

According to the ZALA Aero website, the drone “creates its own navigation field” and does not require ground or sea-based infrastructure or satellite navigation. The UAV also transmits video so a human can confirm target engagement. At the same time, the Lancet’s built-in anti-laser protection gives it protection against laser weapons, while its electric engine facilitates its stealthiness.

At the end of 2020 it was reported that the Lancet had been successfully tested in a combat environment in Syria. The head of Rostec – Sergei Chemezov – noted at the time that the aircraft proved highly effective.

On 18 April, the Rossiya 1 broadcaster released unique footage of the Lancet destroying terrorist targets in Syria. In the first video, the Lancet-3 takes off carrying 3 kg of explosives before hitting a pickup with terrorists in the Idlib area controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham*, formerly known as al-Nusra Front*. In the second video the drone destroys a machine-gun emplacement of Islamists. 

The Russia-made UAV has already earned a nom la guerre “flying Kalashnikov” (or “flying AK-47”) due to its simplicity, usability, and reliability. The experience gained in Syria helped the designers finalise the prototypes of the Lancet drones, which are due to undergo state trials later this year.

However, the Lancet is not the only brainchild of the Kalashnikov Group’s ZALA Aero. The company manufactures a wide range of unmanned aerial systems which are used not only on the battlefield but also for monitoring energy infrastructure and high-risk facilities, protecting state borders, and carrying out rescue and emergency operations.

*Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, al-Nusra Front are terrorist organisations banned in Russia and many other countries.