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US helping Ukraine turn pickup trucks into rocket launchers

An L3 Harris Vehicle-Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment (VAMPIRE). (YouTube screenshot)
August 26, 2022

The U.S. is sending special kits to convert civilian pickup trucks into mobile anti-drone missile launchers in the latest package of military aid to Ukraine.

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In a Wednesday press conference, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Colin Kahl detailed the latest round of military aid to Ukraine. Kahl said the new military aid would include Vehicle-Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment (VAMPIRE) systems.

The VAMPIRE is meant to convert civilian-stye non-tactical vehicles (NTVs) such as pickup trucks into mobile rocket launchers that can hunt down enemy drones. According to manufacturer L3Harris, the VAMPIRE launches an Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), which is a laser-guided version of a Hydra 70 rocket.

The VAMPIRE can be configured to fire a variety of rockets for surface-to-air and surface-to-surface roles, but Kahl specifically said the systems going to Ukraine will be used to take out enemy unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

“The Vampire system itself is a counter UAS system,” Kahl said. “It is a kinetic system, it uses small missiles, essentially, to shoot UAVs out of the sky.”

According to an L3Harris fact sheet, the VAMPIRE “provides a rapid solution for arming non-tactical vehicles (NTV) and a variety of tactical vehicles.” The company said systems “fit in any pickup or vehicle with a cargo bed” and can be installed in about two hours by two people using commonly available tools.

The VAMPIRE system is a four-tube rocket launcher with a WESCAM MX-10™ RSTA camera pod on an extendable pole.

“Our VAMPIRE system will provide the Ukrainian people with even more robust capabilities as they continue to defend their country and democracy in Europe,” L3Harris told C4ISRNET. “We will continue to offer our steadfast support of their mission.”

The ability to install laser-guided anti-drone rocket launchers to civilian vehicles is just the latest instance in a trend of Ukrainians turning civilian vehicles into “technicals” to serve their military needs.

A technical is a term used in military contexts to describe improvised fighting vehicles, usually made by attaching weapons to civilian vehicles. Technicals are typically created by mounting machine guns onto the backs of pickup trucks. The Toyota Hilux has seen particularly common use as a technical vehicle. Technicals have seen common use throughout conflicts in Africa and the Middle East in recent decades.

Earlier on in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a Ukrainian convertible BMW sports car was seen with a machine gun mounted inside its trunk.

That Ukrainian technicals will now be able to field these advanced anti-drone rocket launchers comes as both sides have widely used drones throughout the war. Russia recently began recruiting civilian drone hobbyists to help the ongoing invasion effort.