Warplanes: Russian Cold War UAVs Survive

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May 25,2008: Although Russia is behind in the development of modern UAVs, it actually pioneered their use three decades ago with the Tu-143. This UAV is still in use. It's basically a 1.2 ton cruise missile, fitted with sensors (initially a film camera, but now real-time video and electronic sensors). The Tu-143 is launched with rockets, and recovered via parachute. This means it gets banged up each landing, and, even with repairs, is probably not good for more than a dozen or so missions, at most. It has a range of 200 kilometers. A late 1980s upgrade, the Tu-243, extended the fuselage and fuel supply, for more range (360 kilometers). A third upgrade, currently marketed as the Tu-300, has more sensors, even longer range and can carry missiles. All three versions have a top speed of 950 kilometers an hour and max altitude of 16,000 feet.

What none of these UAVs have is persistence, for even at a slower cruise speed, they don't stay in the air much more than an hour or so. Persistence (staying in the air for a long time over a target) is what makes most modern UAVs so useful. The Tu-143 was built for a Cold War battlefield, for quick recon missions against heavy enemy air defenses. A thousand Tu-143/243s were built, and a few were exported to Syria and Romania. Only Syria still uses them, for missions against Israel.

 


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