Warplanes: Russia Finds The UAV Sweet Spot

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September 27, 2017: Russia is about to put its new Orlan 30 UAV into service. It completed acceptance tests in late 2016. This UAV is similar in shape to the existing Orlan 10 but is larger, can take off and land like a manned aircraft and weighs 27 kg (60 pounds) with a max payload of 7 kg (15.5 pounds).Orlan 30 has a pusher (propeller in the rear) propulsion while the Orlan 10 has the propeller up front. Orlan 30 appears to use a gasoline engine that provides a top speed of 170 kilometers an hour and cruise speed of 150. Max range from controller and video transmission is 300 kilometers but since max endurance is five hours it is possible to program a course and have video captured onboard. The manufacturer is planning to increase endurance.

Orlan 30 uses a similar gasoline engine to the German one used in Orlan 10. This use of foreign engines was discovered when Orlan 10s that crashed and were recovered by Ukrainian troops all appeared to be using a German engine sold widely for use by hobbyists. This is not unusual as manufacturers of equipment that can use COTS (commercial off the shelf) components buy from whoever can provide the right part for the right price. With the sanctions Russia is forced to get a lot of COTS components, especially mechanical and electronic, from China. But when it comes to engines of all sizes, Germany is still the place to look first.

About a dozen Orlan 10s have been lost in eastern Ukraine and nearby Crimea since 2014. Five were shot down by Ukrainian troops while the others crashed because of equipment problems. At least as many have been lost in Syria, where a Turkish F-16 shot down one that crossed into Turkey. Various rebel factions have reported shooting them down and some have been lost to accidents. Photos of the wreckage shows similar components and serial numbers that indicate over a hundred (possibly several hundred) Orlan 10s have been built since 2012.

In 2016 Russia developed EW accessories for Orlan 10. One that turns the aircraft into the equivalent of a cell phone tower, or a cell phone tower detector and jammer. Troops with the proper equipment and software can use the Orlan 10 to send and receive text, voice and images (including video). This system works with another Orlan 10 accessory; the RB-341V (Leer-3) that will precisely locate cell phone towers and can also jam those within six kilometers. Locating the towers is important because troops on the ground can then go destroy or capture the equipment. Artillery or airstrikes can, with an accurate location, destroy the cell phone gear remotely. Ukrainian troops have observed two or three Orlan 10s operating

These EW capabilities are nothing new, American aircraft have had this stuff for over a decade. It’s not particularly high tech but it does represent a unique aspect of modern warfare in which cell phone networks often continue to function on modern battlefields and if the commercial networks don’t the military can employ a temporary one largely suited to their own use. Russia has, since the 1990s, made quite a lot of money exporting military grade electronic weapons. They don’t have the latest stuff, but are willing to provide gear that is still restricted to military use in the West. Orlan 10, with its larger payload can carry more of the EW accessories along with the usual cameras.

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 five kilograms of various kinds of recon equipment, including infrared cameras, or an array of multiple cameras used for creating 3-dimensional maps. Its gasoline engine provides a cruise speed of 90 to 150 kilometers an hour, a service ceiling of about 5 kilometers, and a flight endurance of over five 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. Orlan 10 entered service in 2012 and has been used in combat zones like Ukraine and Syria. Orlan 10 has also been put to use in the Russian Far East for patrolling borders as well as coastal waters. Orlan 10 can operate in extreme cold and an export version, the Orlan 10E is available. This may be the version used in Armenia, which has Russian peacekeeping troops known to be using the regular Orlan 10 but Armenian troops are also using it now. Orlan 10 has been seen along the Afghan border (used by Russian troops stationed there).

Russia is using this combat experience to help export sales of Orlan 10 and the two new electronic warfare features as well as the new Orlan 30.

 


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