Russia is now using a new version of the Leer 3 Orlan 10 UAV mounted cell phone jammer that increases the range of the jammer from 28 kilometers to about 100 kilometers. The cell phone jammer version of Orlan 10 first appeared in 2016 as one of several EW (electronic warfare) accessories for Orlan 10. The Leer 3 accessory turned 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 to 28 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 together with one operating as a communications relay so that one or two others can operate farther (210 kilometers rather than the usual 120 kilometers) from the operator usually with one doing photo reconnaissance while the other carries a jammer. Ukrainian troops have come to realize when they see a pair of Oran 10s overhead it means their cell phone are about to become unusable and after that they will be hit with an attack they won’t be able to report immediately. Ukrainian troops find using cell phones is more effective for battlefield communications that the usual AM or FM military radios. That is only true if there are enough cell phone towers working in the area and the Russian UAVs are not nearby jamming the signals.
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. Earlier in 2018, Russia announced the availability of the Orlan-10E. This is the latest version of the Orlan 10 but available to for export. That means any evidence of classified equipment can be equipped with while in Russian service. Otherwise, Orlan 10E is identical to the latest version Russian forces use in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere. Orlan 10 weighs about 15 kilograms (33 pounds) and has a maximum takeoff weight of 19 kg. Max payload is six kilograms (13 pounds) and that involves kinds of electronic or 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 up to 16 hours (depending on weight of payload). Max range from the operator is 300 kilometers.
Together with control and launch equipment, and three UAVs an Orlan-10 system costs about half a million dollars. 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 extensively 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. The Orlan 10E was used (tested) 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 in neighboring Tajikistan).
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 show similar components and serial numbers that indicate that up to a thousand Orlan 10s have been built since 2012.
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. The larger model based on the Orlan 10, entered service in 2017. This larger UAV is similar in shape to the existing Orlan 10 but is larger and still takes off and lands like the Orlan 10. The Orlan 30 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 also uses a gasoline engine that provides a top speed of 170 kilometers an hour and cruise speed of 150. Max range from a 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 shorter endurance of Orlan 30 compared to Orlan 10 has limited use of Orlan 30 and to remedy that the manufacturer is trying to increase endurance to at least ten hours.
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.
The EW (electronic warfare) payloads for Orlan 10 are Russian designed and manufactured. In addition to cell phone jammers, locators and detectors. Recon payloads include a gyrostabilized thermal imager and detectors for military radios as well as commercial ones (and walkies talkies). Orlan 10 has jam resistant radio link and can be equipped with a satellite link. The navigation system also includes an INS backup and a “return home” option if normal communications are lost. Another new payload is one for CBRN (Chemical, Biological,
Radiological and Nuclear) weapons detection. The Orlan 10 has to fly low (under 200 meters) to get the best results from the CBRN detector. Normal operating altitude is 1,000 meters and up to 5,000 meters or 16,000 feet.