First Kill! Ukraine Employs ‘Iconic’ SAAB RBS-70 Laser-Guided MANPAD To Shoot Down Russian Chopper

The morning of August 17 was quite eventful for the Ukrainian air defense as they shot down two of Russia’s most advanced Ka-52 Alligators helicopters. One of them was remarkably shot down using a Swedish RBS-70 MANPAD in what has come as the first visually recorded use of the system.

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As Ukrainian air defenses move closer to the frontlines, the efficacy of the Ka-52 Alligators has been called into question. Ukrainian forces claimed that they shot down two Russian Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters, one near Robytyne in Zaporizhzhia Oblast and the other near Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast, in the morning of August 17.

The one shot down in Robytyne in Zaporizhzhia Oblast particularly caught attention as it was downed by the 47th Mechanized Brigade, which was run over the Russians when the counteroffensive was launched in June.

The Ka-52s are known to have wreaked havoc on the unit as it advanced during the first night of its attack to the south of Mala Tokmachka.

The shooting down of the Russian Ka-52 has, thus, become a sweet victory for the 47th Mechanized Brigade. It said on its Telegram account that it had used MANPADS to shoot down a Ka-52 near Robotyne.

Subsequently, a Ukrainian publication, ‘The Kyiv Post,’ obtained a video that allegedly showed the aftermath of the Robotyne showdown.

As seen in the video that went viral on platform X (previously Twitter), two additional Russian helicopters could be seen approaching the crash site as the wreckage of the Alligator burnt. Eventually, under the watchful eye of one Russian chopper, the other one lands, and troops disembark.

However, a more significant detail of this shoot-out now making headlines is the use of the Swedish RBS-70 MANPAD to score the kill. The use of the RBS-70 MANPAD, which has been recorded on video, is the first visual evidence of the system being used by Ukraine in combat.

The 47th Mechanized Brigade hinted that it used an RBS-70 system in July to shoot down a Russian Su-25 Frogfoot close-air support jet. In May, the Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed they’d already used one to shoot down “Russian cruise missiles and Iranian-made kamikaze drones.” Still, neither of those claims included any video or other visual verification.

The widely circulated video led to early assessment and speculations by netizens that it was likely a Javelin that shot down the Ka-52. However, military observers asserted that it was the RBS-70 that entered the frame quite clearly at the beginning of the footage, even though the mechanics of the so-called “cold start” is strikingly similar to the functioning of the Javelin, which has already shot down a Ka-52.

The experts identifying the MANPAD as the RBS-70 alleged that the Bolide, a modified SAAB RBS 70 projectile, has the same shape and recognizable middle fins as seen in the visuals doing rounds on social media.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense or the military was yet to officially acknowledge these claims at the time of writing this report.

Moreover, experts noted that the system could score the kill owing to its missile, guided by the operator using a laser beam, essentially rendering the countermeasures of Ka-52’s Vitebsk EW system useless.

As previously reported by EurAsian Times, Ukraine received the RBS-70 man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) in April 2023 that were initially pledged by Sweden in August last year.

At the time, it was noted that the system would provide excellent defense against Russia’s kamikaze drones but shooting down a Ka-52, believed to be the best in Moscow’s inventory, has been lauded by experts.

What Do We Know About The RBS-70 MANPAD?

The RBS-70, a unique system created by Swedish defense giant SAAB, is the first shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile (SAM) with a laser guidance system, making it comparatively better than infrared, radio frequency, or active or passive radar seekers.

Since the platform was developed in the 1970s, there have been three different versions. Therefore, it is unknown which one Ukraine has received. The newly formed 88th Separate Mechanized Brigade, which uploaded a photo on its Facebook page on April 20, announced the development of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) obtaining the weapon.

The Swedish Armed Forces made a special request that led to the development of the RBS-70 platform. It desired a long-range, non-jammable, highly accurate, and hit-probable missile. It was also claimed to be immune to electronic jamming and diverted by flares and chaff dispensers.

Their requirements included the missile being capable of hitting ground targets with the same missile, supporting systems, and launchers.

Ukrainian soldiers with the Swedish RBS-70 MANPAD, seen from its rear side

The laser emitter, precisely positioned in the missile’s nose, emits a laser beam that serves as its centerline, which the missile follows. The rocket only moves along this path, giving it high accuracy.

“The low power used by the complex and lack of radiation before launch make it difficult to detect the RBS-70 effectively,” the Facebook post by the 88th Separate Mechanized Brigade said earlier this year.

Since it lacks a radio frequency (RF) seeker, “the lack of radiation” refers to the absence of radio emissions. In addition, unlike an infrared homing seeker, the laser beam guidance enables the missile to strike oncoming aerial threats from the front and the side or back, as those features do not emit ‘heat’ to indicate that they are coming from those directions. This makes the system formidable.

According to some reports, the RBS-70’s technology places it somewhere between MANPAD and Very Short-Range (VSHORAD) systems. The RBS-70 becomes equivalent to well-known MANPADS like the Stinger, Igla, or Mistral due to its four to five km of range. In the four-to-five-kilometer range, the RBS-70 has a sizable edge.