Suicide UAVs are a problem for both Russia and Ukraine in the ongoing conflict.
The question is, to effectively deal with such small suicide UAV targets, is it reasonable to deploy and use expensive anti-aircraft missiles? Meanwhile, it is these tiny UAVs that can destroy millions of dollars worth of tanks and other ground assets. Compact, low-cost and very difficult to destroy, even using expensive missiles, the Lancet UAV poses a significant threat to air defense systems and ground assets. Traditional anti-aircraft machine guns can be an effective solution against this small but formidable weapon.
According to ArmyInform, Ukraine’s 30th Mechanized Brigade is currently using the ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft machine gun to deal with the Lancet UAV and this tactic is proving effective to a certain extent. The ZU-23-2, a massive 23mm machine gun, has been in use since the 1960s. Equipped with two barrels and a long belt of rounds, it can engage aircraft up to 2.5 km away.
Initially intended for helicopters and attack aircraft, the ZU-23-2 has now found its niche in combating suicide drones. Even so, anti-aircraft guns like the ZU-23-2 have unstable combat performance due to the high speed and small size of the drones, making it difficult to detect. However, in the absence of mobile anti-aircraft missiles, this is still the best anti-aircraft tactic against suicide UAVs.
ZU-23-2 weighs nearly 1 ton and usually requires a crew of 2, including a gunner and a commander. A third soldier can be added for tasks such as detection, communication and ammunition management. With a fire rate of 400 rounds per minute, the ZU-23-2 can fire 2,000 rounds continuously in a short time. The dual-barreled design allows the ZU-23-2 to cover a large area of fire, destroying even small targets such as the Lancet UAV.
Currently, the important role of the ZU-23-2 is to protect Ukrainian units from attacks by kamikaze Lancet UAVs, Orlan reconnaissance UAVs and many other unmanned aerial vehicles. It is worth noting that the reconnaissance UAV often flies at high altitudes, which will become the main target of the Strela-10 air defense system and Western weapons. However, these reconnaissance UAVs can sometimes descend to a lower altitude, and are within range of the ZU-23-2’s firepower.
In Ukraine, the ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun must remain concealed from drone attacks. Despite its simplicity and age, this weapon disrupts Russian drone operations, making it a high-priority target. As a result, frequent position changes are necessary.
According to Bulgarian Military, anti-aircraft guns like the ZU-23-2 have inconsistent effectiveness. Given their high speed and small size, UAVs are often difficult to detect. Nevertheless, in the absence of man-portable anti-aircraft missiles, this strategy remains the best defense against suicide drones. While the ZU-23-2 may not be effective against modern jets, it is still a valuable tool in the fight against UAVs.