Tag Archives: UAV

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.

Shamanov’s Press Conference

General-Lieutenant Shamanov

Ever-loquacious VDV Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov held a wide-ranging press conference on Wednesday.  The Defense Ministry web site covered it hereITAR-TASS also published a number of short items on it. 

Shamanov detailed the work of five immediate deployment VDV battalions, lobbied again for a helicopter regiment, and discussed training issues and his procurement desires.  He joined the dogpile on top of the Russian OPK although he once seemed to defend it, and he credited Putin alone for the initiative to modernize the military’s arms and equipment.

He described his forces as combat ready, and manned and equipped at 100 percent.

Relative to combat readiness, Shamanov announced that the VDV has dedicated five battalions for immediate deployment which, if necessary, will be its first units sent into combat.  He said:

“By agreement with the General Staff, in the VDV we’ve dedicated five battalions for immediate deployment.  The uniqueness of service in these battalions is such that personnel from each of the battalions goes on leave for 45 days as a complete unit.  Therefore, at a minimum four battalions are always ready for combat deployment.  Today one of the sub-units of such a battalion from the 31st Airborne-Assault Brigade (Ulyanovsk) is fulfilling missions in Kyrgyzia [sic].”

Shamanov also gave voice to his desire, more modestly expressed than in April, for some aviation assets for VDV.  Speaking about the VDV’s future development, he said his troops must become airmobile.  To this end, he’s “given the Genshtab’s Main Operations Directorate [GOU] a request on the issue of forming a helicopter regiment in one of the three airborne-assault divisions [DShD or ДШД].”

Shamanov discussed VDV training at great length.  He started, of course, by speaking about jump training.  The parachute jump training plan was 70 percent fulfilled during the winter training period.  He blamed poor weather, saying troops often jumped in minus 30 degrees Celsius—the lowest acceptable temperature.  The plan for jumps from An-2 aircraft was fulfilled, but only 70 percent fulfilled from Il-76 aircraft.  He noted the VDV conducted its first-ever drop of a BMD-2 with its crew on-board, and said this hasn’t been done in 7 years, and then it was a BMD-1.  Use of the BMD-2 was significant, he said, because the BMD-2 represents 80 percent of VDV’s combat vehicle inventory.

Shamanov talked about large Spetsnaz assault group jump training in guided parachutes.  He said the use of guided parachutes allows reconnaissance troops to complete a horizontal flight of 20 kilometers, and:

“Our goal is to get so that such movements reach 40 kilometers, as they do in the Israeli Army.”

The VDV Commander noted that the multi-component Polet-K command and control system was tested for the first time in winter training.  He said: 

“It still isn’t the full suite envisioned in the future.  We are one-third through its introduction into the forces.  This process won’t happen in a year.”

Also for the first time, an artillery sub-unit of the 98th Airborne-Assault Division used Russian-made ‘Eleron’ UAVs for target designation on the Luga training grounds.  Shamanov said five ‘Eleron’ UAVs were employed in the training, and they conducted supplemental reconnaissance to a range of 10 kilometers in advance of fire missions.  This summer, 12 VDV crews will train on Israeli-made UAVs in Moscow Oblast.  Shamanov said:

“Unfortunately, our representatives did not go to Israel where they produce the ‘Hermes’ UAV which has been bought by Russia.”

Shamanov noted more attention to air defense training in the VDV this winter.  There were 40 firings of manportable ‘Strela-10’ and ‘Igla’ SAMs.

For the summer training period, Shamanov noted the VDV has 9,300 conscripts to get through three jumps in the course of 1.5 months.  The VDV will participate in ‘Vostok-2010’ and the CSTO’s ‘Cooperation-2010.’  There will be a VDV-level CSX (КШУ), as well as a CSX involving the 98th VDD (or ВДД).

Following the lessons of the Georgian war, the VDV is periodically training on the Navy’s large assault ships (BDK or БДК).  Shamanov says:

“In the winter training period we transported the 108th Regiment on large assault ships three times.  The exercises ended with a naval assault landing by a reinforced assault-landing battalion (ДШБ).

Last but not least, Shamanov commented on VDV procurement, and transport aircraft in particular:

“Work on the State Armaments Program for 2011-2020 is being completed.  According to our requests, in it there is the modernization of Il-76 aircraft, renewal of production and modernization of An-124 aircraft, the purchase of 30-40 An-70 aircraft.”

An-70

But the VDV Commander stressed these were his requests, and the final say isn’t his.  Utro.ru quoted him:

“In the development of the state [armaments] program, we gave our proposals, whether they’ll be realized in the confirmed version of the state program, I can’t say yet.”

Gzt.ru and Lenta.ru covered the An-70 and An-124 story in detail.

Shamanov said troop testing of the ‘Shakhin’ thermal sight for infantry weapons is complete.  He said:

“There has to be one approach for weapons—they have to be all-weather.  Not long ago the thermal sight ‘Shakhin’ went through troop testing.  After the testing we returned it to the designers for reworking.  We’ve given the task that our weapons work according to the aviation principle—turn your head and firing systems turn after it.”

He commented on air-dropping the BMD-4M, and added that, “The BMD-4M has every chance in the future, owing to its qualities, to be the forces’ main infantry combat vehicle.”

Although he seemed more like a supporter of Russian-made weapons six months ago, Shamanov now applauds Prime Minister Putin [not President Medvedev?] for searching for good weapons and equipment abroad.  Shamanov said the prospect of foreign competitors has forced “the domestic OPK to move,” as reported by Utro.ru.  He continued:

“Last year when industry was told that we’d look for alternatives abroad, they began to move.  In particular, the atmosphere around Mistral is creating a significant context for the domestic OPK.  When people declare that they’re ready to produce 21st century weapons but their equipment is from the 30s and 40s [of the 20th century], how can you talk about the 21st century?  Therefore, every official supports Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s initiative on the requirement to renew our armaments.  As long as this doesn’t happen, we’ll being shifting in place, and this won’t be just a lament of Yaroslav’s daughter [reference to the Prince Igor’s wife in the Lay of the Host of Igor after his defeat by the Turkic Polovtsy in 1185].”

At the same time, Shamanov concluded that GAZ and Izhevsk vehicles perform better for the VDV in the snow that equivalent Italian and Canadian ones.

Shamanov also said it’s essential to decide what to buy without any kind of lobbying, and for his part, he bases his decisions on saving soldiers’ lives and fulfilling missions.