Thunder is Heard

The Grom (Russian for Thunder) unmanned aerial vehicle exists now in the form of a mock-up and a concept. Preliminary design works began in August 2021, and at this phase the shape of the future combat robot will be specified. But one unique capability of the new UAV has already been announced: it will be able control a swarm of ten Molniya (Russian for Lightning) small-sized strike drones, which can be used to break through modern air defense systems and strike even the most protected targets.

The Kronshtadt Group is developing a promising strike drone. The Grom is made according to the normal aerodynamic scheme and has a shape that provides the aircraft with minimal radar visibility in most angles. Like fifth-generation UAV fighters, Grom carries some of its payload in an internal weapons compartment. There can be conventional bombs of different calibers, guided Kh-38 air-to-ground missiles (AGM), as well as guided aerial bombs KAB-250 and KAB-500.

The weight of the Grom striker weapon payload will be at least 1,300 kg, which is serious enough for a vehicle with the takeoff weight of a light fighter.

Tactical and technical characteristics of the Grom UAV:

GromLength – 13.8 m

Wingspan – 10 m

Height – 3.8 m

Takeoff weight – 7,000 kg

Payload mass – 1,300 kg

Maximum speed – 1,000 km/h

Cruising speed – 800 km/h

Operating range – 800 km

Ceiling – 12,000 m


One of the most efficient scenarios of combat use of Grom drones is a strike operation to break through the enemy air defense. Even now they can already be classified as a classic drone engagement. An indisputable advantage of such operations is saving lives of pilots of conventional attack aircraft. Why is this important? Besides humanitarian reasons, there are also financial ones: the cost of training a bomber or attack aircraft pilot is sometimes comparable to the cost of an aircraft itself and certainly higher than the cost of an attack drone. And the loss of professional pilots certainly affects the morale of a warring army.

Drone strike operations can resemble a computer game: somewhere far away from the frontline, a pilot operator is sitting at the dashboard and controlling the drone. The most advanced devices allow the operator to be several thousand kilometers away from the combat zone – satellite communication will ensure transfer of images and flight parameters from the drone to the operator, and then will transmit the command to use weapons from the operator to the drone.

Of course, the aircraft must be largely automated – when performing routine operations, participation of a pilot-operator is not necessary at all, even passenger airliners fly under autopilot control most of the way. But when a target is reached or any change in the information field around the vehicle occurs, the pilot-operator gets to work.

In a classic situation, a combination of reconnaissance and attack functions works, which has been implemented for many years in the concept of American counter-terrorist operations. First, there is reconnaissance and identification of the target, then the drone hits the target with a guided weapon – a guided air bomb or an air-to-ground missile. If the enemy has no full-fledged air defense or it's easy to suppress, everything looks simple and efficient.


We see a completely different picture when the enemy has a powerful air defense system. What matters here is not so much the presence of modern systems as the well-thought-out and controlled organization of an echeloned defense. After all, in 2019–2020 Saudi Arabia has had quite modern Patriots in service, and Armenia used S-300, but practice has shown that neither side was ready for modern unmanned attacks.

In the war of the future, for which Grom is being prepared with a swarm of small-sized Molniyas, a successful strike operation is very likely. Operators will be able to direct the attack from long-range surveillance and control aircraft such as the A-100 Premier. The Grom strike drones will attack the enemy defense system as the first echelon, its task being to open up and destroy air defense installations. Part of the Grom drones will conduct reconnaissance and provide information coverage of the entire operation, while another group will suppress all communication channels on the enemy territory and, after portraying several false raids, eliminate the air defense command centers in the main strike.

Several Grom strikes with dozens of Molniya coordinated actions are able to clear the way for heavy planes, destroying the enemy's anti-aircraft systems, which would have become unguided and blind. After that, the main air forces – manned aircraft and heavy UAVs such as Okhotnik (aka Sukhoi S-70) – will enter the fray. This is a very realistic scenario for a future drone attack.


So far, Grom exists only as a mock-up and a concept. Its conceptual development began only in the summer 2021, and it can be assumed that in 2022–2023 works on the strike drone will reach the stage of technical design, and by 2025 we might see the first prototype of the new drone in the air. Predicting the future is an ungrateful task, but it may well happen that with increased interest from the customer – the Russian Ministry of Defense – the project will be implemented in a short time frame.

It will probably take two to three years for comprehensive testing and pilot operation of the new type of equipment. Not only tactics of the drones themselves will have to be practiced, but also coordination of joint combat operations with a swarm of small Molniya drones, as well as with other drones and manned aircraft. Currently, no other army in the world has such an experience. Not only control systems, but also fully automated modes of operation of mini drones will have to be developed and worked out. It is the autonomy that ensures the speed of technology. In an instantly changing environment, a human operator will lose to artificial intelligence in decision-making speed.

It is assumed that the Grom will be used in conjunction with manned fighters Su-35, Su-57 and bombers Su-34 and provide suppression of enemy air defense. Probably, there will be specialized modifications of the Grom, such as with jamming and electronic warfare. Information exchange between all manned and unmanned aerial vehicles is also likely to be possible. This is the main feature of the future air warfare: network-centricity and unified information space will ensure victory in impending high-tech conflicts.

Author: Dmitry Kornev
©New Defence Order. Strategy  №1 (72) 2022

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