No Funding for Domestic UAVs

Israeli Searcher Mk.2

RIA Novosti reports a highly-placed OPK representative says development of Russian UAVs hasn’t been financed for two years.  According to him, this is connected with the drawn-out work of Defense Ministry experts considering Israeli drones purchased two years ago.  The source continues:

“It’s obvious Russia’s Defense Ministry can’t figure out its future actions:  either continue to buy UAVs abroad, or finance our own development.”

It seems pretty clear to this author it’s the former, especially considering the following figures.

TsAMTO gave the news agency a rundown on Russia’s 2009 contract for Israeli UAVS:  two Bird Eye-400 ($4 million), eight I-View Mk150 ($37 million), and two Searcher Mk.2 ($12 million).  TsAMTO also says a $100 million contract for 36 unspecified UAVs was signed later.

RIA Novosti also notes, this March, the Defense-Industrial Corporation (Oboronprom) agreed on a $400 million contract with IAI to assemble Israeli UAVs in Russia.  Oboronprom’s Helicopters of Russia sub-unit is responsible for the Russian side of this joint venture.  At the time, Russian experts argued that comparable domestic UAVs were several times cheaper.  But Russian designers also acknowledged lagging in some technologies, particularly optical-infrared sensors and data transmission.

More than a year ago, then-Armaments Chief Vladimir Popovkin said 5 billion rubles had been spent on domestic UAV development without result.  Then months of comparing foreign and domestic models followed.  And now the money trail makes it pretty obvious the Defense Ministry (and big OPK players themselves) are intent on buying abroad.  Small Russian UAV makers are the short-run losers. 

This seems a smart choice for now.  It will be some time before  Russia successfully integrates foreign-designed UAVs into its military operations.  There doesn’t seem a compelling reason to aim for self-sufficiency in something that’s still a niche mission. 

What will happen depends on how Moscow handles its domestic developers.  Will they be able to apply foreign UAVs to their own work and make competitive models of their own?  Falling behind on pilotless technology is not exactly a negligible risk in the coming unmanned age.

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One response to “No Funding for Domestic UAVs

  1. They keep talking about wanting state of the art whether they get it domestically or from abroad.

    The simple fact is that in UAVs and more importantly UCAVs no one will sell them their state of the art drones no matter how much money they offer.

    At the end of the day if they want state of the art in drones they will have to invest the money in their domestic developers.

    The thing with drones is they are of such a wide variety. There are tiny machines that fit in your palm that can operate up to 500m up to 2km away for up to an hour. There are much larger systems that need runways and can climb to enormous heights and operate for days.

    There are also airship based systems that can stay aloft for 4 months.

    With the proper access to the right components there is no reason why Russian Drones should lag behind Drones made elsewhere… well there are two very good reasons. Israel and other makers of modern drones have two advantages over Russian makers. One they are willing to and have spend large amounts of money on developing and upgrading drone designs, and two they have used drones for decades in a range of roles and have the experience of what works and what doesn’t.

    It seems the Russians think they can spend money to skip the experience bit.

    I think investing in Israeli drones for training and experience, but also investing in Russian drone makers to cooperate with the military to fine tune their drones to match the requirements of the military makes a lot of sense.

    We have already seen innovation in the Russian drone industry with drones mounted as payload on Smerch rockets to find targets to the Smerch battery and for potential use as damage assessment and recon assets.
    Zala Aero are advertising a large box that can be hung under the pylon of a Ka-52 recon attack helo that carries up to 6-8 UAVs that can be released individually in flight to scout the terrain ahead looking for threats and targets for the helo to engage or to pass target data to HQ for other platforms to target.

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