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Russia tries to close MALE UAV gap

9th September 2020 - 12:45 GMT | by Leonid Nersisyan in Yerevan

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Russian manufacturer Kronstadt Group unveiled important developments in domestic UAV technology in late August, during the Army 2020 exhibition near Moscow.

In particular, three platforms appear to show a concerted effort to close the gap with US and other Western MALE systems.

Orion, the lightest and most compact of the three UAVs demonstrated at the exhibition, entered limited service in April 2020 and has even reportedly been in action in Syria. Nikolay Dolzhenkov, General Director of Kronstadt, said that the Russian MoD has already signed a contract for serial-production Orions.

The 8m-long Orion has an MTOW of 1,200kg and a wingspan of about 16m. While its payload is rather underwhelming (60kg for a normal flight of up to 24h) and it lacks satellite control, limiting its combat range, Orion still marks the first MALE UAV development by Russia.

The country has considerable ground to make up, as MALE platforms are already manufactured in countries such as Israel, South Korea and Turkey, as well as the US and Western Europe.

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Another UAV, Sirius, was displayed in the Army 2019 show as a civilian MALE system. In its new military guise, it has an MTOW of 2,500kg, a wingspan of 23m, a length of 9m and a payload of up to 450kg.

Significantly, this UAV features a SATCOM channel which will allow operations at ranges beyond 1,000km. Like Orion, Sirius will be able to use various guided missiles and bombs, but there is no definitive information as to when development of the latter UAV will be  completed.

An even larger UAV being developed by the Kronstadt Group is the Helios-RLD. This 12.6m-long platform has a take-off weight of 4t, a wingspan of 30m and can carry a payload of up to 800kg, with a combat radius of 3,000km.

In the configuration shown at Army 2020, Helios can function as reconnaissance UAV operating with the help of a radar station. However, Kronstadt may be able to create an attack version to approach the capabilities of the MQ-9 Reaper (albeit with a lower payload).

By exhibiting Helios, it is clear that Kronstadt Group wants to compete with the Altius-U MALE UAV. This was initially developed by the Simonov Design Bureau until 2018, when responsibility was transferred to the Ural Works of Civil Aviation following irregularities.

Leonid Nersisyan

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Leonid Nersisyan


  Leonid Nersisyan is a Shephard Media contributor, based in Yerevan, Armenia.

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