Today’s local conflicts set new demands to warfare; precision-guided weapons are increasingly being applied. Unmanned, radio-controlled military equipment is being rapidly developed and put into operation. In particular, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have become a wide spread type of such weapons and can already boast a long service record. Their role in performing such military tasks as suppression of enemy air defense, reconnaissance, targeting, strike control is getting more and more important. In general, having analyzed a number of recent local wars, one can conclude that UAVs rank high on the frontlines.
Russia’s military political leadership also takes this situation into account. On May 9, 2018, at the Victory Day Parade on the Red Square in Moscow two latest unmanned aerial vehicles Korsar (Corsair) and Katran were presented. They are part of a wide range of UAVs the Russian armed forces already have in service.
It is not a secret that Russia lagged behind the leading states in terms of development and production of unmanned flying vehicles. In recent years, in order to reduce the gap, several projects were launched, which resulted in creation of UAVs of different classes and for different tasks.
One of them is Orion, a long endurance UAV, which was already tested in Syria. Its development began in 2011 by the order of Russia’s Defense Ministry. At the design and experimental stage the UAV had a code name “Pacer.” Initially, St. Petersburg based company Tranzas was the general contractor for the project. At present the Kronstadt Group is the general contractor.
The Orion UAV is intended for aerial reconnaissance and information support of the combat units. Its main characteristics that became known from media reports are the following: maximum take-off weight: 1,000 kg, payload: 200 kg, length: 8 meters, wingspan: 16 meters, flight duration: 24 hours. Series-produced vehicles will be powered with Russian APD-110/120 engines with two-bladed propeller AV 115 with the diameter of 1.9 meters. The unmanned aircraft is equipped with surveillance system.
The Orion UAV can conduct aerial guard duties, supplementary reconnaissance check of ground based objects to ensure targeting for means of destruction, as well as fire adjustment and strike control and topographical reconnaissance.
According to the developers, all airborne systems of the flying vehicle are “completely electronic.” It may mean that they fully abandoned the use of hydraulics and pneumatics. Under its belly the vehicle carries a “ball” with several glass “windows,” which is set at the gyro-stabilized platform. Inside there are electro-optical sensors.
In addition, below the central part of the body there is equipment for highly detailed aerial photography of the earth's surface and ground objects.
The multipurpose optoelectronic system enables the vehicle to perform intelligence, monitoring and target designation tasks, to capture, recognize and automatically track targets in the visible and infrared ranges, the developers note. This system makes it possible to obtain near-real time information about coordinates of objects.
Besides a version with options for imagery reconnaissance, the developers offer a vehicle equipped with an alternative sensory kit. Its main component is a radar station. This type of vehicle can carry out terrain mapping, search for ground objects in the radar range, as well as detecting the enemy’s air defense system, direction finding and positioning of communications centers.
The developers are especially proud of the “energy efficient, electro-impulse and anti-icing system,” which enables Orion to fly in northern latitudes.
“Together with TsAGI (Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute) we developed a system, which significantly expands the climatic zone of the aircraft application,” says Nikolay Dolzhenkov, one of the UAV developers. In the company, he holds the position of deputy general director in charge for unmanned vehicles development, and his colleagues call him "the general designer of unmanned systems."
Innovative solutions were widely used in the development of the UAV. As a result, its airframe is fully made of composite materials (including skin and power kit). "The low-loaded structures of the airframe are made on the basis of carbon fibers," Dolzhenkov continues, pointing at a life-size sample of the glider (wingspan: about 16 meters, body length: 8 meters), which is hanging from the ceiling of a stand-alone pavilion of the Kronstadt Group at MAKS-2017 air show.
According to Dolzhenkov, the "level of novelty" of the aircraft is almost 100%. “In five years, new technologies have been developed in the country. They did not exist before we began to work on this task,” the general designer stresses.
In turn, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko says that, the work on the Orion combat and reconnaissance UAV (code name: “Pacer") is almost finished and its mass production will start already this year. The deputy minister notes that “some additional upgrade” of the system is possible.
In order to give the Orion UAV function of a combat drone Kursk-based experimental design bureau Aviaavtomatika developed a new set of air weapons, which includes three types of controlled bombs (one bomb weighs 25 kg and other two weigh 50 kg each). Also, guided weapons for the UAV are being developed by JSC Tactical Missile Corporation.
Currently, the gap between Russia and its Western competitors in production of UAVs has been significantly reduced. The Russian armed forces already have in service a wide range of unmanned aircraft, while developers are ready to offer practically any type of such vehicles - of strategic and tactical classes, for strikes and information support, both helicopter-like and plane-like UAVs.