Thursday, November 5, 2009

Russian Air Force Seeks New UAVs

The Russian air force is looking to modernize its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fleet. Officials have developed requirements for new UAVs, but a lack of local products that meet these needs is forcing them to turn to foreign suppliers, notably Israel.

The air force has purchased 14 drones from Israel Aerospace Industries, including Bird Eye 400 mini-UAVs and the 400-kg. (880-lb.) Searcher Mk II tactical reconnaissance model. Vladimir Popovkin, armed forces chief of armaments, says the aircraft were acquired to develop UAV techniques and train personnel. “We don’t . . . [plan to] stop domestic developments in this field.”

Requirements for a new generation of UAVs are being coordinated with the defense ministry, general staff and navy, says air force commander Gen. Col. Alexander Zelin. Speaking at the MAKS 2009 air show here in August, Zelin said new vehicles are slated to enter service in 2011 and will eventually account for 40% of combat aircraft.

“We need high-quality unmanned aircraft capable of providing real-time data, and which can be used, if necessary, to strike enemy bases,” he added.

The air force wants a family of UAVs with capabilities for land strike, air defense and reconnaissance. Air force chief of armaments Gen. Maj. Oleg Barmin said at MAKS that a new unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) is planned to go into service with Russia’s fifth-generation PAK FA (T-50) fighter, and should use the same weapons (DTI October, p. 44).

The last large-scale Russian effort to develop a generation of drones dates to the 1980s and included development of three UAV types: Story-P, for regiments; Story-A, for an army (several divisions in Russia’s military organization); and Story-F, for several armies. The only one to enter service, in the 1990s, was the 138-kg. Pchela (bee), a Story-P reconnaissance drone.

Story-F candidates, the heaviest, included the 3,500-kg. Tupolev Tu-300 jet-powered drone. Leonid Kulikov, Tupolev’s chief designer for unmanned systems, tells DTI the Tu-300 passed factory trials in the 1990s, and performed reconnaissance and land-strike missions. Kulikov says the Tu-300 had a combat load of almost 1,000 kg., and during trials engaged land-based targets with unguided bombs. But the military suspended development. Two prototypes remain but work is unlikely to continue, as the design is obsolete, he says.

Another attempt to develop a high-speed UAV with strike capabilities was made by MiG and the Yakovlev companies. MiG unveiled in 2007 a full-scale engineering mock-up of the 10-ton Scat UCAV with a stealthy flying-wing design. Powered by a non-afterburning Klimov RD-5000B engine, Scat was designed to reach 800 kph. (500 mph.). According to designers, Scat was supposed to carry a payload of up to 2 tons in two internal weapon bays, each of which could accommodate one Kh-31 (AS-17 Krypton) air-to-surface missile, or a guided 500-kg. bomb. Yakovlev planned to develop an unmanned derivative on the basis of its new Yak-130 jet trainer.

Both companies won’t reveal details about development. MiG and Sukhoi CEO Mikhail Pogosyan said in August that the companies will demonstrate the results of their work to the defense ministry as soon as they receive requirements.

Some progress is reported in the development of low-speed UAVs with strike capabilities. St. Petersburg Transas demonstrated at MAKS a mock-up of the 600-kg. Dozor-3. Powered by a pusher propeller, it offers endurance in excess of 24 hr. at 130-150 kph. Dozor-3 carries a 120-kg. multisensor payload including an in-house-designed, forward-looking radar and laser designator. Gennady Trubnikov, chief UAV designer, says the automatic control system for the Dozor-3 was tested on the smaller Dozor-5 during the Zapad-2009 military maneuvers with Russia and Belarus in September. A weapon load for Dozor-3 is possible, says Trubnikov, but designers haven’t received requirements from the military, although discussions are underway.

NII Kulon is developing a 500-kg. UAV dubbed Prokhodchik that flies at 250 kph. and has endurance of 12 hr. It carries a 100-kg. payload that includes X-band radar and electro-optics.


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