In the back room of a Canberra industrial site, an Australian response to the growing drone threat in Ukraine is taking place.
A replica cannon mounted on the back of a pickup truck tracks its target, part of a weapons system that launches “hard” strikes to blast drones out of the sky.
It’s called Slinger and is designed to counter drones at an affordable cost for countries like Ukraine.
“We have seen a massive proliferation of drone threats in Ukraine,” said Matt Jones of Electro Optic Systems, or EOS.
“The problem is that the types of systems you would use now to defeat drones are way too expensive to defeat a $10,000 or even $1,000 drone.”
The war has changed forever in Ukraine. Drones play a huge role above the front line. It is estimated that thousands of drones are flying every day.
“The speed at which you can not only find people on the battlefield, but the speed at which you can target them and destroy them, it changes tactics,” said retired Australian Major General Mick Ryan .
“This changes the training, and we will have to change the doctrines and military equipment everywhere.”
“It’s all about cost”
In a world where weapon systems cost multi-million dollars, drones are the great equalizer. The feared Iranian Shahed model used by Russia to target tanks and cities costs around $31,000. Others cost less.
The missiles used to shoot them down can cost 10 times more.
“Until recently, we had to use very expensive missiles to attack these things,” Mr. Ryan said.
“If you use a $100,000 or $200,000 missile to shoot down a $10,000 drone, that doesn’t work for most countries.”
Slinger uses sophisticated technology to achieve a direct result. In Canberra, EOS test engineer Charlotte Capper used a joystick to track a drone on the system’s targeting screen.
“I’m just making sure it stays on track, stays armed, and when we get the signal we can fire and shoot down the drone,” she said.
“It’s very quick and easy to learn. You don’t need to know much technology. It’s easy to see what each thing does and how it does it.”
Last month, Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, saw during tests how Slinger could shoot down drones for a fraction of the cost of missiles.
“Sometimes these missiles cost millions. And you hit the drones, which cost $20,000, right? And it’s all about cost,” Mr. Myroshnychenko said.
“But you never know where this drone is aiming and what exactly it will destroy.”
Slinger’s price tag is less than $1.55 million per system. It aims to destroy drones at a cost of between $155 and $1,550 per engagement.
“Ukrainian cities are attacked by drones and missiles every day. And we have been seeing these drones for a year and a half now,” the Ukrainian ambassador said.
“The Slinger system offers a unique way to target moving targets, especially when we can intercept their drones.”
Slingers shipped to Ukraine
In Queanbeyan and the ACT, EOS assembles the cameras, lasers and gimbals that operate its tracking systems. Eighty-five percent of components come from Australian suppliers.
The company’s defense products are directly linked to its origins in the space sector. EOS monitors objects as small as a dime in orbit up to 36,000 kilometers above Earth.
This technology translates directly to targeting small, fast-moving objects, such as drones.
“What we’re actually doing here is we’re using tracking, we’re using the stabilization algorithms that we’ve developed for deep space tracking,” Mr. Jones said.
Ten Slingers currently manufactured in the ACT are expected to be delivered to Ukraine by the end of the year as part of a US military aid package.
A Department of Defense spokesperson said the Australian government was committed to honoring its current contribution to Ukraine. But there are currently no plans to add Slingers to Australia’s $710 million in military aid to Ukraine.
Ryan believes Ukraine needs as many counter-drone systems as possible to defend against the new reality of warfare.
“This is literally a Cambrian explosion in the use of drones in warfare,” he said.
“One of the most intense periods of innovation and systems adaptation we’ve ever seen, and we’re probably not at the end of it yet.
“We are probably closer to the beginning than the end.”