Orlan-10 is one of the main UAVs of the Russian army. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
In the past 10-15 years, the Russian army has been paying particular attention to unmanned aerial vehicles. Unmanned aerial vehicles for various purposes with different characteristics are being created, purchased and put into service, which make it possible to cover all the needs of the armed forces. Due to this, one of the world’s largest “air fleets” of UAVs has already been created, and in the future it will become even larger and will be able to perform a wider range of tasks.
The current processes of construction and development of the unmanned direction were launched in the 2000s – although older models created in Soviet times are still in service. The development of modern UAVs began with the development of our own samples and the purchase of foreign products necessary for the accumulation of experience.
The calculation prepares the UAV “Eleron-3” for launch. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
Over time, the number of domestic developments grew, and some of these samples were adopted by various types of troops. Currently, UAVs of several classes are in service with the ground forces, the Air Force, the Navy, the Airborne Forces and a number of power structures. At the same time, so far only complexes of the light and middle classes are becoming widespread. Heavy UAVs, incl. shock assignments have not yet reached full service, but their appearance in the ranks is expected in the near future.
According to known data, the Russian army now has approx. 70 companies responsible for the operation of the UAV. They own hundreds of two dozen types of unmanned aerial vehicles, including at least 2 thousand aircraft. Thanks to this, Russia is one of the main “unmanned powers” in the world. In terms of the number of UAVs in service, our country is second only to the United States and Israel.
“Eleron” on the launching device. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
The processes of development and modernization of unmanned vehicles do not stop. Also, the production of devices continues under existing and newly emerging contracts. New directions are being mastered. All this allows us to assume that our UAV fleet, at least, will not decrease in quantitative terms, but in terms of quality, real breakthroughs await it.
State of the park
At the moment, the vast majority of army UAVs belong to the light class; these are mainly devices designed for monitoring and reconnaissance. So, the most widespread is the Orlan-10 complex with an aircraft weighing only 14 kg, capable of carrying 5 kg of payload. Various payload options are offered, including communication equipment and electronic warfare equipment.
UAVs of the Eleron series are of great importance for the troops. Such devices are built according to the “flying wing” scheme and have a mass of 3.4 to 15 kg. They are able to stay in the air for a long time and conduct reconnaissance without attracting attention. Larger and heavier samples of the series have a changeable load. Newer UAVs of the Tachyon family have similar characteristics and capabilities. A number of other samples of Russian design and licensed production belong to the same class.
Launch of the Tachyon UAV. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
The main domestic UAV of the middle class at the moment is “Forpost” – a licensed copy of the Israeli IAI Searcher II. This vehicle has a takeoff weight of over 430 kg and carries reconnaissance equipment. As production continued, the degree of localization increased and the dependence on imported components decreased. In addition, work on the Forpost-R UAV is nearing completion. It is larger and heavier than its predecessor, and has an increased flight duration. In addition, the project provides for the use of only Russian components and software.
Features of operation
The existing UAV fleet in the troops is only suitable for observation and reconnaissance – and the army actively uses this. Reconnaissance companies with drones have been created in all large formations of ground, airborne and other troops. Their task is to collect data about the enemy and the situation in general, target designation for various fire weapons, etc.
Medium UAV “Forpost”. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
As part of the Syrian operation, unmanned aerial systems have shown their capabilities in the field of reconnaissance and target designation. With their help, the work of combat aviation is ensured, incl. strategic, and friendly ground units. Various options for such interaction between UAVs and other equipment are regularly practiced in exercises.
In recent years, the Ministry of Defense has repeatedly reported on the introduction of UAVs in new areas. So, unmanned aerial vehicles can now provide the operation of artillery systems of various types, up to high-power 2S7M systems. The data from the reconnaissance drone is used both for preparation for firing and for adjustments after the first shots.
The operation of the UAV has begun in the engineering and railway troops. With their help, sappers and railway workers can assess the situation and determine a plan for further actions – during the construction or destruction of facilities, when laying roads or repairing, etc.
Orion complex with heavy drones. Photo of the company “Kronstadt”
A difficult prospect
The Russian army does not yet have heavy-class UAVs capable of showing higher flight characteristics. Due to the lack of such platforms, the question of shock drones remains open. However, work in this direction began several years ago and will soon give all the desired results.
The Orion unmanned complex shows the greatest success. He successfully passed the tests and even passed the test in Syria. In the spring of this year, the Ministry of Defense adopted the first complex with three UAVs. Serial production is expected to start. The project of a similar purpose “Altius-U” has faced some problems. This UAV is still being tested, but has every chance of entering service in the near future.
Heavy “Altius-U” in flight. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
Of particular interest is the S-70 Okhotnik project, which has already been brought to the test of the prototype. It provides for the creation of a “flying wing” with advanced reconnaissance and strike capabilities and the ability to work both independently with maximum autonomy, and in one formation with a manned fifth generation fighter.
The topic of drones capable of interacting with aircraft is developing. At the forum “Army-2020” for the first time showed a model of a promising UAV of this kind called “Thunder”. It is expected that such a device will be able to carry weapons to combat air and ground targets, and will also take on the most dangerous combat work.
In recent years, the domestic industry has paid attention to the direction of the so-called. loitering ammunition – light UAVs carrying a warhead and capable of attacking ground targets. Several developments of this class have already been presented, they are being tested – but they are not yet accepted for service. Probably, a decision on this will be made in the near future.
Loitering ammunition “Lancet”. Photo of Concern “Kalashnikov”
In the recent past, the “Cube-UAV” ammunition was presented. This is a small-sized product (wing span 1.2 m) with a warhead weighing 3 kg. The product is capable of flying up to half an hour. During this time, the operator can monitor the situation and look for a target to strike. Later, the Lancet ammunition was presented. It is distinguished by an aerodynamic design, a more advanced optoelectronic system and an increased combat load.
Present and future
UAVs of a number of classes have already become an integral attribute of the Russian army. The production of existing types of equipment continues, which allows the continuation of rearmament and the creation of new reconnaissance and monitoring units. In parallel, other samples are being developed, incl. completely new classes with different working and combat capabilities.
Thus, by now the “air fleet” of Russian drones has become a large and full-fledged force capable of solving the assigned tasks. And right now it is on the verge of a new stage in its development. Apparatus of new classes with expanded capabilities have already been created, and in the near future they will reach full-fledged operation. Heavy attack vehicles will complement light reconnaissance vehicles – and Russia will enter the circle of world leaders not only in the number of UAVs, but also in their quality and capabilities.