Both MANPADS and ZU-23-2 are not perfect weapons. But when used together, they compensate for each other’s shortcomings.
The National Guard of Ukraine (NGU) has recently provided a more detailed comment about how they are dealing with the enemy helicopters with the aim to provide cover for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
According to the officer’s explanation, Russian military helicopters usually conduct their operations in areas covered by woods, in order to avoid becoming easy targets for Ukrainian soldiers. The enemy is also actively using drones and other measures to disrupt the operations of Ukrainian air defense units. Therefore, the task of NGU is to eliminate this threat.
Compared to larger rockets, MANPADS is a relatively inexpensive weapon. However, it is too expensive to use on small targets like drones. Therefore, Ukrainian forces use anti-aircraft guns or sniper rifles to shoot enemy UAVs down.
What comes next?
Then, it is a turn for a “combo” consisting of MANPADS and ZU-23-2.
MANPADS is a modern weapon that can be fired and forgotten: the homing missile does its job in a few seconds after the shot is made. However, Russian helicopters often use so-called thermal infrared traps to disrupt the guidance system of the missile. That is why a backup method is required.
If a homing missile fails, ZU-23-2 is put into action. This weapon is old – it first appeared in service with the Soviet army back in 1960. That is why this anti-aircraft autocannon lacks modern features.
Despite all its shortcomings, the ZU-23-2 is lightweight (just 0.95 tons, or about 2,100 lbs), requires a crew of just two people, and uses two barrels to fire 23mm caliber shells at a steady rate of 400 rpm, or up to 2000 rpm cyclic rate. To improve accuracy, this autocannon can be combined with optical sights and laser rangefinders. The same platform can be fitted with short-range air defense missiles.
The effective range of this weapon is 2.5km (2 miles), which is quite enough to battle helicopters and similar low-flying aircraft, making the ZU-23-2 a versatile replacement for MANPADS. Of course, autocannon is more difficult to operate or to fire accurately, but it is fully immune to enemy heat traps.
The National Guard of Ukraine notes that this tactic works most of the time. A combo of MANPADS and ZU-23-2 even acts as a measure of deterrence, because helicopters are unable to get closer to the positions of the defenders and are forced to shoot from extremely long distances which significantly lowers their accuracy.