The Russians admitted that their "Verba" MANPADS is effective against threats at a range of 5 kilometres, flying at an altitude of up to 3,500 meters. If that’s true, this would mean that the Polish “Piorun” MANPADS is superior, in comparison to its Russian (and non-Russian) counterparts.
RIA Novosti announced that Rostec launched an extended range MANPADS development project. The information can be considered credible, as it was released to the public by the industrial director of the arms cluster, ammunition and special spruce at Rostec, Beckhan Ozdoev. He told the journalists that the maximum range of the Russian MANPADS systems is around 5 to 6 kilometres, and that plans have been made now to have it extended.
The development is a two-dimensional effort, as relevant work also addresses the issue of seeker enhancement. Alexandr Roamniuk, deputy sales head at KB Mashinostroyeniya (KBM, a part of Rostec), claimed that the designers at KBM are also working on increasing the MANPADS kill probability by increasing the “gain” of the seeker. This is to allow the system to be able to neutralize small targets, such as UAVs, or loitering munitions.
We are currently working on extending the range of our MANPADS
The upgrade works regarding the Russian MANPADS is not surprising. It is a standard procedure to develop an improved variant of the developed weapons system, right after fielding. Notably, though, the release issued by RIA Novosti confirms the range performance of the new "Verba" units - and the figures are far from being revolutionary. The new seeker’s performance is dubious, to say the least.
RIA Novosti is yet another news agency announcing that the range of the new Russian MANPADS is 6 kilometres (ceiling ranging from 10 to 3,500 meters - not 4,000 meters, as other sources suggest). This means that the latest Polish "Piorun" MANPADS is superior when compared to "Verba". The maximum range of the "Piorun" missile remains unknown, but we can be certain it exceeds 6.4 kilometres. The altitude performance gap, between the Polish and the Russian solution, is even greater. The "Piorun" MANPADS is capable of neutralizing air threats flying at altitudes ranging from 10 to 4,000 meters.
One needs to note that the release issued by RIA Novosti contains two, contradictory pieces of information. The first one indicates that the “most advanced” Russian “Verba” system features a “three-band seeker that makes it possible for the missile to effectively act against targets such as drones, with low thermal signature contrast”. Another piece of information states that the Russian upgrade of the MANPADS systems is to increase the seeker’s gain (sensitivity), to act against smaller threats, such as loitering munitions, or UAVs.
Why one should provide a feature that is available already? Maybe the "Verba's" reputation is indeed based on propaganda, and the Russians are not satisfied with its performance. This is probably the reason why KBM is still manufacturing two MANPADS types (legacy "Igla-S" systems, and the theoretically advantageous "Verba" MANPADS).
The experts have been wondering for some time now, as to why both those systems are being fielded in the Russian forces, even though one of them is, theoretically, better. “Igla” is a proven, reliable solution. This may have been a decisive factor for KBM to still offer it.
„Piorun" vs. "Verba"
The Polish industry is not shy in claiming that the Polish MANPADS technologies are based on the know-how of the Russian engineers, in the MANPADS domain. However, it seems that the Polish industry has outgrown the now-former mentor. The Russians, surely, have noticed. The information published by RIA Novosti is yet another proof that the Polish Piorun MANPADS outperforms the Russian "Verba", thus, probably being best in its class, worldwide.
Furthermore, as Russia is suffering from sanctions imposed after the Crimean crisis, the situation would not change anytime soon. The Russian engineers are masterful in designing rocket propulsion and mechanical subsystems, but they remain helpless, without having access to state of the art electronics. It does not matter that Piorun currently utilizes a dual-band photodiode seeker when the Russians use a triple-band seeker.
The Polish solution is sensitive enough to be able to detect air threats at a distance of 8 kilometres. "Piorun" may be launched against an incoming threat that is around 7 to 8 kilometres away. It is enough for the system to compute the trajectory and show the missile that the target would appear within the maximum range of its seeker.
The diode signal in Piorun is immediately processed into a digital format which enhances the signal-to-noise ratio and allows the seeker to analyze all heat sources, thus making it able to discriminate the threats from the countermeasures (flares), that appear suddenly. Several analysis/selection types are used here, including spectral, position, emergence, and relative speed analysis. This allows the seeker to discriminate the heat sources that are slowing down. This means that we are dealing with a programmable seeker that the “Verba” is probably missing.
The Russians could work on enhancing its seeker. However, Telesystem-Mesko has already announced that Piorun MANPADS is scheduled to receive a multi-spectral seeker soon. The development project in this domain is already well advanced - modernized air defence systems utilizing the solution in question could soon be commissioned in the Polish Armed Forces.
The Piorun's advantage is also pronounced in the case of its digital launch system that features a launch sequence recorder and a fire authorization system, preventing unauthorized personnel from employing the missile. The lack of a "programming" keypad on the "Verba's" launch unit may suggest that the Russian MANPADS still lacks a solution as such.
The arms race is going on. However, most probably, it is the Russians that need to catch up.