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.