Vampire at sea: L3Harris eyes maritime version of counter-drone system


L3Harris Technologies is eyeing a maritime mission for its mobile counter-drone system, with the company doing early design work to create a Vampire payload that could be mountedon an unmanned surface vessel.

In early 2023, L3Harris announced it had received $40 million from the Pentagon to build 14 truck-mounted Vampire sets — or Vehicle Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment — to send to Ukraine. Each kit includes a WESCAM MX-10 RSTA targeting sensor and an Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System rocket and launcher.

Several media outlets reported in February that Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian Shahed drone with the Vampire counter-unmanned aerial system weapon.

Jon Rambeau, the president of L3Harris’ Integrated Mission Systems, told Defense News in a March interview that he had received user feedback that the system had been successful in taking out the Russian drones that have most troubled Ukrainian forces.

The company is now looking at, first, “can more of that capability be provided in Ukraine for that c-UAS mission,” he said, particularly in light of the “single-digit millions of dollars” cost per Vampire unit.

And second, he said, “how could you take a Vampire kit and put it on a small unmanned surface vessel and deploy that in the ocean as part of layered approach to defending shipping and military ships?”

The U.S. Navy and other global forces are struggling to keep the Red Sea region safe amid ongoing attacks by Houthi forces in Yemen. The Houthis have shot cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and drones at targets at sea and ashore, leaving naval forces to determine which ones to let fly harmlessly into the sea, which ones to engage with expensive defensive missiles, and which to try to take out using cheaper guns.

Leaders have lamented not yet having laser weapons onboard ships, which could address some of this cost challenge.

Rambeau did not specifically address which customer might use this maritime Vampire or in which geographic area. Both the Houthis in the Red Sea and the Russians in Ukraine are using the same Iran-made attack drones, meaning Vampire would be applicable in both settings.

Asked about ongoing discussions with a customer to pursue a maritime Vampire payload, Rambeau said, “it’s more conceptually, could you do this? Yes we could. Could you do some preliminary design work? Yes we can. So we’ve done some of that, and now there’s discussion [on] how fast could we field that and what would that look like, what would it cost, when could we get them.”

Whereas the original Vampire system was mounted on and launched from the back of a pickup truck, putting the same rocket launcher on a small unmanned surface vessel is a bit more challenging.

“Making sure that the vessel as sufficient stability to withstand the thrust of the rocket as it leaves the launcher; making sure that the vector of the exhaust from the rocket isn’t damaging part of the vessel itself — so just some of the configuration, orientation, stability” issues to work through, Rambeau said. “But we think all of those things are manageable.”

Even as it mulls the maritime application, L3Harris will continue improving its Vampire system. Rambeau said the user feedback from Ukraine showed the need for greater training upfront, as well as improving the sensor suite.

He noted the original goal was to get a basic product out rapidly and cheaply, with L3Harris always intending to upgrade to better sensors that allow operators to see farther out and better detect and track potential drone threats.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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