Tag Archives: БПЛА

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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Israeli and Russian UAVs for Ground Troops

Yesterday Aviaport.ru wrote that Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov, his First Deputies, Vladimir Popovkin and Nikolay Makarov, Air Forces CINC, Aleksandr Zelin, and industry representatives attended a demonstration of Russian and Israeli UAVs at Kubinka on 10 March. 

The systems shown included the Israeli mini Bird Eye 400 and medium-range Searcher MkII, and also an unnamed Russian mini selected in comparative testing last fall. 

Aviaport.ru says Russian systems were only on static display, but Israeli ones were actively demonstrated.  The Searcher MkII performed a six-hour continuous flight in the vicinity of Kubinka at an altitude of  five km, relaying imagery to its ground station in real time.

Israeli drones arrived in Russia last year, and operators and technicians were trained, but they are only just starting to be used.  A Defense Ministry source tells Aviaport.ru these UAVs are already receiving high marks from the military.

UAV.ru’s editor-in-chief Denis Fedutinov thinks new pilotless aircraft will be based at the 924th Combat Training and Personnel Retraining Center.  The Center’s personnel previously used only Russian-made UAVs, the most modern of which was the 1980s-vintage Pchela.  Fedutinov says:

“Compared with them [Pchela], the impression of Israeli systems will be like switching from a Zhiguli to a Mercedes.”

Nevertheless, according to Fedutinov, the “door isn’t closed” for Russian developers.  The tests of the mini-UAV last year showed an increase in quality of Russian systems, and there was a promise to buy several dozen Russian systems for experimental use in the Ground Troops.  

The tactical-class segment still isn’t occupied, and there are two Russian contenders — VEGA’s Tipchak and Kronshtadt’s Dozor-100.  The latter is reportedly preferred given Popovkin’s negative comments about the former.

Fedutinov thinks when it comes to larger systems there’s still a possibility for cooperation with the Israelis, and there is Russian interest in the Heron system.  But decisions on this issue are essentially political.

After meeting his French counterpart in Paris — mainly about the Mistral acquisition, Defense Minister Serdyukov declared his interest in procuring all types of UAVs, from reconnaissance to strike variants, according to ITAR-TASS.  Serdyukov stated:

“At present, we’re studying the line-up of Israeli pilotless aircraft in detail.  As is known, ‘Helicopters of Russia’ has agreed with the Israelis on establishing an SP [joint venture] to produce such systems.”

Serdyukov added that a UAV operator training center will be set up soon:

“Where this center will be located isn’t decided yet.  These systems will be part of the Ground Troops.”

He said the Defense Ministry wants to buy all types, from light to heavy UAVs.  Russia is also interested in the foreign practice of using satellites to control unmanned reconnaissance and strike aircraft, Serdyukov said.

Emblem of Procurement Problems

On Friday, amidst Krasnaya zvezda’s usual fare, there was interesting coverage of a high-level meeting to review the military’s UAV (BPLA or БПЛА) procurement program.

Technically, it was a session of the collegium of the Federal Service for the Defense Order (Rosoboronzakaz or Рособоронзаказ) with the agenda item “Results of Inspecting the Placement and Fulfillment of the State Defense Order (GOZ) in the Area of Development and Supply of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.”

Rosoboronzakaz Director Aleksandr Sukhorukov, a former Serdyukov tax service deputy, conducted the session.  Also participating were newly-minted Deputy Defense Minister Tatyana Shevtsova, also a former Serdyukov tax service deputy, and Director of the Federal Agency for Supplies of Armaments, Military and Special Equipment, and Material Resources (Rosoboronpostavka), Nadezhda Sinikova, another of the Defense Minister’s long-time proteges.

The military paper noted that representatives of the government, ministries, and other federal executive organs, state customers from the Defense Ministry, FSB, FSO, MVD, and MChS, representatives of the Main Military Prosecutor, and OPK officials also attended.

One Yu. Stolyarov gave the main report.  He’s Chief of the Directorate of Oversight of the State Defense Order in the Area of General Armaments and Military Equipment, Aviation Equipment, Aerospace Defense Means and Armaments, Ships, and Naval Armaments and Military Equipment.  Quite a broad portfolio.  Krasnaya zvezda didn’t elaborate on what Mr. Stolyarov said, however.

Ground Troops CINC, General-Colonel Aleksandr Postnikov, VDV Chief of Staff and First Deputy Commander, General-Lieutenant Nikolay Ignatov, an OAO Tupolev deputy chief designer, and OAO ‘Vega’ Radiobuilding Concern General Director, V. Verba also spoke at the session.  Their remarks weren’t reported either.

Krasnaya zvezda reported that all presentations were thorough and constructive, and the collegium adopted some draft directive, but we don’t know what it said.  The paper, however, says the main theme of all presentations was the same:

“. . . in their TTKh (ТТХ – tactical-technical characteristics) domestic UAVs must not lag behind foreign ones and it’s essential to do everything to achieve this.  State money has to be spent with maximum effectiveness.  Troops and power structures need to be supplied with those UAVs that will be most effective on the battlefield, and in conducting special operations.”

What should we conclude from this?  Firstly, the meeting highlighted Shevtsova’s new oversight and auditing role in procurement.

Secondly, the Defense Ministry’s leaving the door open for domestic UAV producers, and so this seems to amount to just another warning to them.  It doesn’t seem to be anything like a decision to include Russian firms or exclude foreign ones, or vice versa.

It’s not surprising the Defense Ministry highlighted this particular program review.  Few procurement issues have caused Russia as much angst recently as UAVs. 

Georgia’s Israeli-supplied UAV capabilities, and Russia’s relative lack of them, highlighted this issue in 2008.  Moscow had to risk manned aircraft instead of employing unmanned ones on reconnaissance missions.  What’s worse, two years after the five-day war, there’s still no fix to the UAV problem.  And it will become more acute should unmanned aircraft become the backbone of future air power for the world’s leading militaries.  Russia’s clearly behind on UAVs, and questions remain about whether it should catch up, and whether it can.

The Russian defense establishment has spent months debating buying from foreign manufacturers, purchasing sample quantities abroad, or producing jointly to jumpstart or pressure domestic producers.  In late 2009, Air Forces CINC, General-Colonel Zelin flatly stated it would be ‘criminal’ to accept inferior Russian UAVs into the arms inventory.  The FSB reportedly said it would buy Israeli UAVs.  In March, Defense Minister Serdyukov admitted domestic UAVs ‘seriously lag’ behind world standards, and, in April, then Armaments Chief, now First Deputy Defense Minister Popovkin reported that Russia had spent 5 billion rubles on UAVs without result.

So UAVs joined the list of other systems – helicopter carriers, soldier systems, light armored vehicles, etc. – that could be bought abroad, but it doesn’t look like Moscow is ready to rely, at least entirely, on foreign producers for any of them.