A catch-up game: the Russian drone Altius is inferior to its foreign counterparts
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A catch-up game: the Russian drone Altius is inferior to its foreign counterparts

9 April , 08:41
The global use of the first military drone made in Russia is somewhat exaggerated, although otherwise it is quite an effective and useful weapon

The Russian army is literally one step away from a momentous event - the adoption of a new type of combat aircraft. Yes, it seems that a real miracle is about to happen and we will be armed with the unmanned aerial vehicle with a global flying range. In any case, after the completion of factory tests of the Altius UAV, this can be said with almost certainty.

Victor Kuzovkov

This event is all the more remarkable because until recently, in 2018, the fate of the project was in great doubt, and its chief designer, Alexander Gomzin, was even imprisoned for a while on charges of embezzlement and misuse of funds allocated for the Altair project (that’s what Altius was called then).

One of the reasons for this attack was precisely called the alleged inability of the Design Bureau to them. Simonova to complete the Altair project. It seems like the UZGA, which by then had the experience of screwdriver assembling the Searcher Mk2 Israeli drones manufactured under license by us, should have been able to cope with the task much better. And he, as we see, did it. True, after having lured the leading employees of the Design Bureau named after Simonov, who worked on the Altair project ...

Okay, we will not delve into the topic of the not quite correct, let’s say, redistribution of property and state contracts in the Russian defense industry. It is certainly interesting, but now we have a different reason. We simply state - it’s good that it ended at least like that, and the aircraft ordered by the Ministry of Defense nevertheless took to the air and even passed factory tests. Now it’s up to the small thing - to pass state tests, make the necessary adjustments, make improvements, and the much needed aircraft will begin to arrive in the army

But still, we should carefully look at what we get. Russian media, experts and bloggers have already rushed to call Altius a response to the American RQ-4 GlobalHawk program. And at first glance, there is something similar: Altius’s flight range reaches 10,000 kilometers, and in the air it can be up to 48 (!) Hours at one gas station, which even exceeds the performance of a famous American. The payload is comparable with it - up to 1000 kilograms. The wingspan is 28.5 meters versus 35 meters for the RQ-4, which is also quite comparable.

True, there are significant differences. And they, unfortunately, are not in favor of the Russian project. Altius is inferior to the American uncrowned “drone king” in a number of critically important indicators, and against its background it looks faded. Judge for yourself - a range of 10,000 km. Versus 22,780 km. (some modifications have 25,000 km altogether.). Cruising speed of 180-250 km / h, versus 570-600 km / h for the American. The practical ceiling is 12,000 meters versus 19,811 meters for the RQ-4.

It would probably be more correct to talk about creating an analogue of the American MQ-9 “Reaper” UAV - a reconnaissance and strike drone of smaller mass and significantly shorter range, but with a carrying capacity of up to 1700 kilograms. “Sharpened” for performing targeted strike operations, “Reaper” has distinguished itself more than once in the elimination of terrorist leaders, in attacks on caravans of militants in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and some other hot spots. True, there are gloomy pages on his account, in particular, shootings of wedding processions in Afghanistan, but these are the mistakes of operators, not drones ...

That is, we got something in between, as if with one machine we tried to close two existing niches at once. As a result, frankly, they did not reach the real global intelligence officer. Alas, the real "answer to the Americans" somehow did not work out. The speed, by aviation standards, is almost "pedestrian", comparable only to the cruising speed of helicopters, the range, taking into account the round-trip flight, is not very global, the flight altitude is also not very significant, quite comfortable for any medium-range air defense systems, including not very new, and even the oldest fighter jets.

One of the reasons for this lag is our lack of suitable engines. On the American “analogue”, the magnificent AllisonRolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine is installed, capable of stably operating at an altitude of up to 23 thousand meters and providing thrust of about 31.4 kN, or about three and a half tons. Russian designers had to be content with RED A03 / V12 piston engines, designed and manufactured by the German company RED Aircraft GmbH. Given that there were no piston aircraft engines in Russia at the time the project was launched, and the production of German A03 in various modifications was planned to be localized in Russia, this solution can be called not optimal, but acceptable. However, the two piston diesel engines could not provide the Altius neither significant cruising speed, nor, all the more, sky-high flight altitudes.

Nevertheless, you should not sprinkle ash on your head and scream that everything is gone and we again “loved” all the polymers. Based on the specifics of the use of such unmanned vehicles, we can assume that in certain situations it can be very useful to the Russian army.

First of all, we must be aware that neither American, nor Israeli, nor Turkish, nor Russian reconnaissance and attack drone are able to play any significant role in the confrontation with a well-armed enemy. The experience of Turkey, which actively used its Anka and Bayraktar drones during the recent crisis in Syria, showed that an enemy with sufficiently modern medium-range air defense systems can quickly land dozens of such vehicles. Then, recall, only the Syrian command’s unpreparedness for such a development of events allowed Turkish drones to piracy in the sky of Idlib for a couple of days. After the deployment of Buk-M2E air defense systems to the region, the situation changed dramatically, and the loss of unmanned aircraft from the Turkish side amounted to several dozen units. After that, their effectiveness decreased sharply, and the overall counter-offensive activity of militants and Turkish units fell to almost zero.

Therefore, we immediately discard the idea of the possibility of the successful use of Altius UAVs and similar vehicles against NATO countries or, for example, China - in such conflicts, if they happen, these are not fighters. But in low-intensity conflicts, such as the war in Chechnya, such drones can find application.

First of all, an interesting thing for the military is the ability to monitor a certain area of the terrain with just one drone for two days. This will allow, if necessary, only a dozen unmanned vehicles to provide round-the-clock and uninterrupted, for at least months, monitoring of any dangerous sections of the conflict. And the presence of Altius’s purely combat payload will allow, if necessary, to urgently destroy the targets found and taken for escort. Under such conditions, the basic principles of guerrilla warfare are sharply complicated and, on the contrary, the army’s capabilities increase in controlling the movements of militants, preventing and destroying ambushes, transferring weapons and ammunition, and so on.

Such unmanned aerial vehicles can play a role in conflict with a more serious enemy. For example, in the case of Ukraine, if we allow the further development of the conflict according to the most unfavorable scenario, Altius could also be very useful. True, only after strike aircraft and cruise missiles destroy medium-range and long-range air defense systems, but still. The fact is that Ukraine inherited from the USSR huge arsenals of conventional weapons - tanks, artillery, multiple launch rocket systems and so on. After the suppression of anti-aircraft defense, conventional ground units could remain combat-ready for a long time and continue to resist, and only permanent air strikes could allow the theater of operations to be cleared with minimal losses. And for this, Altius looks like a rather suitable machine - the constant presence in the air, powerful reconnaissance equipment and high-precision ammunition at a relatively low cost of use in this case is exactly what the doctor ordered.

That is, in no case can we say that the money in this case was spent in vain. A relatively small fleet of such vehicles of the Russian army would really be useful. And even though the “global” nature of their use is somewhat exaggerated, otherwise, provided that the enemy’s air defense systems are suppressed, this is a very effective and useful weapon.

In this regard, by the way, the arguments that Altius should work in conjunction with fifth-generation fighters Su-57 and the promising strike UAV Okhotnik look very doubtful. Just they are not very suitable for conflicts of low intensity - except perhaps in the initial stage, when it is necessary to suppress enemy air defense. But the very possibility of the on-board electronics of the new drone to exchange data with other aircraft can be very popular - timely intelligence information will certainly be useful for attack aircraft, such as the Su-25, and attack helicopters.

Also, not everything is clear with the on-board weapons complex, which Altius plans to equip. The reports that they can be armed even with X-35 anti-ship missiles or the latest “Thunder” planning bombs should nevertheless be considered a fake. Yes, everything converges in mass - at least one of the ammunition of the indicated types can be hung on the Altius. But the drone, at a speed of 250 km / h trying to crack the American AUG air defense, or at the same speed dropping a planning air bomb (and its flight range depends on the speed of the carrier), looks pretty pathetic. Therefore, suppose that here our designers will follow the path beaten by the Americans - most likely, the UAV will be equipped with anti-tank missiles "Whirlwind", "Attack" and the like. This will allow him to hit a wide range of targets, including cars, armored vehicles, MLRS, bunkers, dugouts, mobile air defense systems, and at the same time perfectly fit into weight and size requirements. And more is not necessary in this case - for the rest there are strike aircraft, strike drones and cruise missiles.

Another important point is the very fact of the successful, despite everything, development of a new complex. Yes, while he is far from catching up with competitors in everything, but the path that our defense has traveled from absolutely nothing and the licensed assembly of Israeli UAVs to Altius is huge. A composite hull, carbon-fiber elongated wings, modern avionics, optical and radar reconnaissance equipment - all this seemed almost unattainable a couple of decades ago. And now we have the right to say that if the domestic aircraft engine is slightly tightened, on the basis of the Alitius UAV it will be possible to create a real, rather than imaginary, analogue of RQ-4.

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