This article first appeared in Defense Technology International.
The Russian military has been sparing in its use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), primarily because the models in service were designed in the Soviet era and are obsolete. Although local manufacturers are years behind the U.S. and Israel in UAV developments, some indigenous systems are being tested.
Russia's need to get on track with UAV development was made painfully clear during last summer's war with Georgia over South Ossetia. A Georgian air-defense crew shot down an ancient Tupolev Tu-22 bomber that was reportedly on a surveillance flight. Using a manned asset -- and a strategic bomber at that -- for airborne reconnaissance strikes many as the 21st century's version of a cavalry charge.
Most of the work being done is with small UAVs -- Reaper-size drones don't seem to be on the radar yet.
The Luch design bureau of Rybinsk delivered the first Tipchak reconnaissance UAV to the Russian army for testing in 2007. This is a 50-kg. (110-lb.) BLA-05 drone launched by catapult and powered by a 12-hp. piston engine. The aircraft is 2.4 meters (7.8 ft.) long and has a wingspan of 3.4 meters. It carries a combined TV/infrared camera and has an operating range of 70 km. (43 mi.), speed of 200 kph. (124 mph.) and 3-hr. endurance.
The military plans to use Tipchak for surveillance, target detection and to adjust the fire of multiple-launch rocket systems, say representatives of Luch. The company plans to deliver two more Tipchak systems this year, each with three unmanned drones. It has assembled a reserve of 20 UAVs.
A modified drone, the BLA-07, is also being tested. It is smaller, but reportedly has improved aerodynamics, folding wings and higher-resolution cameras.
Russia's border guard service is also in the market for UAVs to monitor the country's frontiers. The Transas company of St. Petersburg conducted demonstration flights with its Dozor-4 UAV for border guards last fall in Dagestan in the North Caucasus. The vehicle is a further development of the Dozor unmanned family. Its high-wing airframe has a wingspan of 4.8 meters and takeoff weight of 90 kg. The Dozor-4 is powered by a 19.2-hp. piston engine with pusher propeller and has 8-hr. endurance. Range is 1,200 km.
During the five-day trials at the Dzhepel frontier post in the mountainous region on the border with Azerbaijan, the Dozor-4 flew several sorties, taking pictures of the border and surrounding areas. Gennady Trubnikov, chief designer of the UAV, says the Dozor-4 can position itself with an accuracy of 15 meters. We flew right above the border.
The UAV has a static ceiling of 3,000 meters, but Trubnikov says that in Dagestan engineers were only flying the drone to 2,540 meters because of strong winds from the mountains. Another challenge was the unprepared field in use for takeoffs and landings.
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