Warplanes: Russian UAVs Reach The Pacific

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March 30, 2016: Russia recently revealed that it had sent five of its new Orlan 10 UAVs to troops on Sakhalin Island. This is on the Pacific Coast and where the 40 kilometers long and 43 kilometers wide La Perouse Strait is, which separates Sakhalin and the Japanese northernmost home island of Hokkaido. This part of the world has nasty (windy and often very cold) weather. Orlan-10 has already been used in Arctic region in the north of Russia. The propeller-driven Orlan 10 was used there to monitor maritime navigation routes in Russian territories and to aid in search-and-rescue operations, helping to stake Russian territorial claims in the area. With an operating temperature range that goes down to minus 30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit), the Orlan-10 is one of few UAVs that Russia has recently designed to be capable of functioning in the Arctic environment. Now Russia is sending Japan a message that it is better able to monitor the La Perouse Strait and part of the Hokkaido coast on a regular basis much more cheaply than before.

The Orlan 10 is one of two modern UAV designs Russia is known to have. It weighs about 15 kilograms (33 pounds) and can carry a payload of up to 6 kilograms of various kinds of recon equipment, including infrared cameras, or an array of multiple cameras used for creating 3-dimensional maps. Its 95 octane gasoline powered engine provides a cruise speed of 90 to 150 kilometers an hour, a service ceiling of about 5 kilometers, and a flight endurance of 18 hours. Together with control and launch equipment, the Orlan-10 costs approximately $480,000. The aircraft is launched via a portable, folding catapult, and lands by shutting down the engine and deploying a parachute.

The other modern UAV is the Russian Eleron-3SV. The $55,000 Eleron-3SV is a battery powered, 4.3 kg (7.49 pounds) UAV travelling at speeds of from 70 to 130 kilometers an hour. Flight endurance of up to 2 hours, and maximum altitude of 5,000 meters (16,000 feet). It is launched by throwing it and can land by flying close to the ground and shutting its engine off.

These two UAVs are a big improvement on earlier Russian efforts and make good use of proven Western UAV design and construction technology. Most modern UAVs are not high-tech and it was always baffling why the Russians insisted on holding on to their older UAV technology for so long. What stirred the Russians to change may be the success of micro UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) like the American RQ-11 Raven. While much less capable than their bigger cousins, micro UAVs offer certain benefits not achievable with the former - small, cheap, and not dependent on airfields. Moreover micro UAVs can be deployed in large numbers, often by small infantry units or by artillery spotters, granting frontline ground units fast, easy, cheap and direct access to a part of surveillance capabilities that before had to be requested from and organized by higher level headquarters, which often prevented the vital intelligence from arriving to the ground troops in time, especially in poorly organized, heavily bureaucratic militaries, like the Syrian one.

As these drones are cheap and meant to be widely available, despite the relatively small scale, low key deployments, eventually few of them got shot down, or encountered technical problems, which has allowed the enemy (or potential enemy) to capture them and make their presence public. Several Orlan 10s were captured in Ukraine and at least one Eleron-3SV in Syria.

 


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