A video shared on social media on Saturday shows an unusual weapon taking out a Russian vehicle, striking downwards at incredible speed and triggering an explosion inside. Close examination suggests this is the first sign of Ukraine deploying an EFP, a type of weapon fired at long range from Western-supplied 155mm howitzers. These smart artillery rounds could wreak havoc among Russian invaders thanks to the teaming of precision self-guided munitions with targeting-finding drones
The video was posted by Nexta TV, a Belarusian exile channel run from Poland, and the target looks like a Russian Pantsir-S1, a truck-mounted anti-aircraft system with twelve missiles and two 30mm automatic cannon, plus radar and other sensors to guide them. The Pantsir-S1 is supposed to provide protection against drones; the fact that the video was filmed from a drone a few kilometres away shows that Russian air defenses are still leaky.
At the 3 second mark in the video, a small detonation occurs around 150 meters above the Panstsir-S1, and a moment later – literally the next frame – the vehicle is hit and explodes.
This unusual sequence is the signature of an explosively formed projectile or EFP. This type of weapon features explosive formed into a hollow cavity lined with metal; when detonated, it squeezes the metal liner into an aerodynamic slug at high velocity which can easily penetrate armor. The EFP is related to the more common HEAT or shaped charge warheads which produce a short-range armor-piercing jet; the slug from an EFP penetrates less armor but can have a range of hundreds of metres.
The weapon in the video appears to be a Bonus 155mm artillery projectile, a type produced by BAE Systems and which delivers two EFP-based submunitons over the target area from up to 20 miles away. These submunitons deploy small ‘wings’ and spiral down, scanning the ground below for vehicles. When they find one they trigger the EFP, with the results seen in the video. They can rapidly destroy large armored formations, or provide pinpoint kills against single vehicles.
A more detailed video from BAE Systems showing how the device works in slow motion can be seen here.
This type of artillery-delivered EFP munition is almost identical to the US SADARM – Sense And Destroy ARMor – developed back in the 1980s, but which was shelved because it was not deemed cost effective. Instead, the US now has M982 Excalibur 155mm round, also made by BAE Systems which rely on GPS guidance to hit a vehicles with a standard high explosive charge, and the laser-guided Copperhead.
One advantage of the Bonus over dumb rounds is that rather than laying down a barrage or taking several rounds to adjust fire on to the target, the artillery can ‘shoot and scoot’ after just one shot. This makes it much harder for Russian counter-battery fire from their numerically-superior artillery. Russia’s self-propelled guns and rocket launchers are likely to be high on the list of targets for Bonus, although valuable targets like the Pantsir – they were sold to the UAE at over for over $12m for each vehicle – may be even higher.
The video was shot from a drone, which highlights another crucial aspect of Ukrainian artillery. Accurate long-range fires like HIMARS rocket launcher and Bonus are useless unless you know exactly where the enemy is. Bonus rounds search an area two hundred meters across, so the target must be located with this level of precision, but does not need to be highlighted with a laser designator as Copperhead’s targets do. Ukraine’s efficient pairing of battlefield drones with artillery allows then to locate targets and rapidly zero in on them, and Bonus rounds make them even deadlier.
France has been slow to supply heavy weaponry to Ukraine. But the new EFP rounds looks like they may give Russia a real headache, and accelerate further the rate at which the invasion force is being eaten away. These are the sort of weapons Ukraine needs, and if this video is any indication, they work exactly as intended.