Ukrainian UAV Records Its Last Seconds Of Life As It Is Hit By Russian Missile

UAV hit by SAM
A screeenshot from the video showing the missile flying towards the UAV. In the boxes: file photos of the Spectator-M1 UAV and the Tor surface to air missile system (Photos: Ukrainian and Russian military)

The video, released by the Ukrainian 45th Separate Artillery Brigade, shows the downing of the UAV after it completed its artillery spotting mission.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, social media are flooded with videos of tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters being attacked and/or destroyed, but always from a third person point of view. Now, for the first time, we have a first-person point of view of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle being shot down by a surface to air missile.

The engagement is part of footage released by the 45th Separate Artillery Brigade of the Ukrainian Army and depicting the artillery attack against Russian positions near Polohy, in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast. The video, posted on the unit’s Facebook page on June 4, 2022, shows the unspecified UAV flying over an oil plant, where a number of Russian vehicles were spotted, and coordinating artillery fire.

After the rounds impacted their targets, while the UAV was flying over an open field, a plume of white smoke quickly left the ground. The missile can be seen turning and correcting its trajectory as it homes on the UAV until it achieved a direct hit, which caused the video feed to cut off. Despite losing the UAV, the artillery barrage was considered to be successful and a second drone, which was also loitering over the target, showed fires and smoke in the depot.

The fact that no units were clearly visible in the open field, a MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) could seem the origin of the missile, but that is unlikely as it InfraRed sensor would have trouble locking a small electrically-powered UAV with a very small IR signature. Moreover, the video clearly shows the missile being launched vertically, before deviating its trajectory and pointing towards the target.

The most obvious hypothesis would then be a Tor-M1/M2 self-propelled surface to air missile system, also known as the SA-15 “Gauntlet”. The Russian forces are relying heavily on this system to protect high value assets, even installing it on the flight deck of warships after the sinking of the guided missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Navy Black Sea Fleet.

Originally designed in the Soviet Union for destroying airplanes, helicopters, cruise missiles and short-range ballistic threats, the Tor system is said to be effective also against UAVs, however it did not have much luck so far, with many launchers destroyed by Ukrainian Bayraktar TB-2s. This video is a rare exception caught on tape.

The type of UAV employed in the video was not disclosed, however the 45th Separate Artillery Brigade posted on Facebook on May 22 a video were the recently-delivered Spectator-M1 UAV was used for the first time to spot targets for the unit’s 2S7 Pion self-propelled 203 mm heavy howitzers. By coincidence, the target area used for this “combat test drive”, as it was defined in the video, is the same oil depot of the video posted on June 4, recorded at the same altitude and with the same image quality.

We can thus safely assume that the UAV coordinating the artillery strike in the video from June 4 and later shot down was a Spectator-M1. The time of the recording was not disclosed but, if our assumption is correct, it could have been recorded during the two weeks between May 22 and June 4, depending on how old was the first video when it was released, or even a few days apart.

The Spectator is and indigenous UAV, developed by the Ukrainian company VAT S.P.Korolev Meridian JSC, is a small fixed-wing aircraft which weighs just over 5 kg and entered service in 2019. Initially designed for the use by special forces who had a requirement for a compact, man-portable capability for tactical air reconnaissance and aerial battlefield surveillance, the Spectator is propelled by a low acoustic signature electric motor with a two-bladed propeller that reduces the risk of detection.

The UAV can employ different payloads, including a digital color 10x optical zoom daylight camera and a thermal imaging IR camera, which transmit their video feed to the ground station via data link. The Spectator-M1 is said to have been developed to conform to NATO’s standards with special emphasis placed on anti-jamming capability, secure communication links and digital encryption of signals.

That being said, the video of the Spectator-M1 being shot down brings back to mind a similar episode from 2008, when a Georgian UAV recorded from its point of view how it was shot down by an air-to-air missile. The unarmed Georgian UAV was conducting a surveillance above the breakaway Georgian territory of Abkhazia on Apr. 20, 2008, when it was approached by a Mig-29 and hit by an air-to-air missile shot at short distance.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.