MILAN – German defense contractor Rheinmetall unveiled plans last month for a drone envisioned to carry up to eight loitering munitions and release them close to their targets.
The drone carrier, dubbed Combat Drone, is based on the existing Luna Next-Generation (NG) platform, also manufactured by Rheinmetall and in service with different customers including the German Army.
A video released last month by the company shows the system being launched via catapult, tracking a truck en route to a shed. The drone then releases explosive loitering munitions which first destroy a perimeter sensor and then blow up the truck parked inside the structure.
“The video presents a proof of concept, where the shown elements are in development and currently at different stages of maturity,” Rheinmetall spokesman Jan-Phillip Weisswange told Defense News in an email. “The Combat Drone will be capable of carrying and deploying different types of rotary-wing loitering munitions, which, depending on the kind and configuration, could total 8 effectors,” he added.
The timing for finalizing the idea will ultimately depend on customer interest, according to Weisswange.
While other details about the envisioned capabilities of the strike drone were not available, more is known about the system that inspired its design. The Luna NG, whose predecessor is the Luna X-2000 that has been operated by German troops since the early 2000s, was formerly manufactured by EMT Penzberg before Rheinmetall bought the operation in 2021. It is a lightweight reconnaissance drone capable of remaining airborne for 12 hours over ranges above 100 kilometers. Soldiers can launch it by way of a rope hoist catapult.
While the drone carrier idea is not new by itself, the design was likely influenced by the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in Ukraine, according to Samuel Bendett, research analyst at the U.S.-based Center for Naval Analyses.
“There is a need in Ukraine to provide kamikaze quadcopter capability and delivery beyond the technical specifications of these small drones,” he said.
Bendett points out that both the United States and China have been experimenting with the concept for years, while Russians officials were recently discussing the possibility of launching the Molniya small combat drone from the larger Grom platform.
“At this point, it’s about who will get there first – and the cost in this is a factor,” said Bendett. “In actual combat, this type of drone delivery can be targeted by the adversary, so lowering the cost of such operations is the correct path forward,” he said.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.