Warplanes: Ambitious Russian UAV Programs


November 26, 2005: The Russian government has not been pushing the development of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), but that does not mean Russian firms are ignoring them. Russian companies, particularly Yakovlev and Tupelov, have been working on a family of UAVs. These companies primarily have fallen behind Sukhoi and MiG in sales of fighter aircraft (Yakovlev's last fighter was the Yak-141 Freestyle, a fighter that was stillborn at the end of the Cold War), and are attempting to make up for some of that with new UAV designs.

The Irkut UAVs are currently being picked up by Russia's Department of Emergency situations. The version sold has a range of 70 kilometers and an endurance of six hours. There are a total of six versions, weighing as much as 1,895 pounds, with a range of up to 200 kilometers, an endurance of 12 hours, a ceiling of up to 3500 meters, and a top speed of 150 kilometers per hour. These UAVs can detect a person up to four and a half kilometers away. But these UAVs are not the only ones in the Russian pipeline.

Sukhoi is developing the Zond family of UAVs with help from foreign sources. The Zond-1 is a UAV with a top speed of 597 kilometers per hour, can stay aloft for 18 hours, and is equipped with a phased-array radar, serving as a form of AWACS. The Zond-2 has a top speed of 714 kilometers per hour, and is equipped with electro-optical and infrared sensors and a synthetic aperture radar. It can stay aloft for 24 hours. The Zond-3 is smaller than the Zond-1 and Zond-2, has a top speed of 250 kilometers per hour, and has a 12-hour endurance.

Irkut is also pushing plans to use the Yak-130, which was co-developed with Aermacchi, as the basis for a UCAV. The Yak-130 has a range of 2200 kilometers, a top speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour, and is equipped with seven hardpoints (four on the wings, three on the fuselage) capable of delivering 6600 pounds of ordnance. The Yak-130 also has some variants, including a fighter (Yak-131), reconnaissance, VIP transport, with other versions being proposed. The Yak-130 is already in service with Russia, making a UCAV version easy support logistically and cheaper to purchase (since Irkut/Yakovlev had lower development costs by using an "off the shelf" system).

The Mil design bureau also is developing a UAV based on something in production. This UAV is being based of the Mi-34 Hermit, a light utility helicopter on par with the OH-58. The Mi-34 has a top speed of 210 kilometer per hour, and a range of 450 kilometers. The Tula design bureau, which makes the Smerch rocket launchers, has designed a UAV for use from the launchers. Tula's UAV is fired from a 300-millimeter rocket and can stay aloft for 30 minutes, transmitting TV images to the launcher. The launcher can send the UAV 90 kilometers away in less than four minutes.

Russia's UAVs are innovative. They will be different from American UAVs like the Predator and Global Hawk, coming from different requirements. They will, however, make their mark, just as the American UAVs have, mostly because other countries want UAVs, and the United States is not eager to start exporting theirs. - Harold C. Hutchison ([email protected])




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