Everything related to unmanned aerial vehicles is a rather narrow and specific topic. However news, one way or another connected with it, in the past year, the military-technical expert community often attracted attention. They mainly came from abroad, but something interesting (in some classes of UAVs) happened in our country.
Most of the iconic events in the world of drones took place in well-known companies, many years working in this field. But there were also new firms - creators of unique projects.
In the class of drone unmanned aerial vehicles, a kind of competition between two longtime rivals - Northrop Grumman Corporation and Boeing concern continues. “Boeing” last year at the air show in the British Farnborough showed the new X-45 UAV “Phantom Ray”. However, Northrop Grumman, which had previously demonstrated Pegasus (Pegasus) drone X-47 at various exhibitions, seems to have progressed further. In early February, it was announced that this promising carrier-based drone made the first flight from the Edwards airbase in California, and in the fall there was information that a second UAV had been assembled, which is also supposed to be used in ongoing flight tests.
Unfortunately, the European consortium of companies implementing the project of an unmanned vehicle of the same class, nEUROn, was not pleased by anything. Apparently, due to lack of funding, he turned into a kind of long-term construction with an uncertain fate. A similar situation, apparently, and with the domestic shock UAV "Skat", the model of which several years ago presented the Russian Aircraft Corporation "MiG".
In this class of vehicles, which have a high altitude and duration of the flight, the American drone Global Hawk of Northrop Grumman Corporation remains a kind of “monopolist”. The device, which in the future is supposed to replace the U2 reconnaissance aircraft as part of the US Air Force, “actively worked” quite actively last year. So, it is known about its use in the Libyan campaign, it was reported about the probable cases of using the “Global Hawk” over the territory of North Korea. In addition, last year, the drone participated in some way in the humanitarian mission in Japan - the UAV produced aerial reconnaissance over the area of the emergency nuclear power plant "Fukushima-1".
Several countries have the desire to acquire this drone. Among the applicants, in particular, Japan and South Korea. However, so far only Germany has received this system - in July Global Hawk made a transatlantic flight from the Edwards airbase to an airfield in German Manching, where Cassidian will install intelligence equipment (including radio-electronic) on it. According to the published plans of the German Ministry of Defense, the Luftwaffe should receive four converted UAVs.
In fairness it should be mentioned that in the middle of the summer almost spy shots of a Chinese device of a similar class appeared. However, it is still difficult to say what exactly is behind these photos. The available data from the Celestial Empire due to the fairly closed information policy of Beijing is very limited. That is why some doubts arise regarding the reality of the represented object. It is possible that the “leak” did not occur without the knowledge of the Chinese authorities and is intended for disinformation of China’s geopolitical rivals.
Main Newsmaker - Tehran
The class of medium-altitude unmanned vehicles of long flight duration (Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance, MALE) presented several surprises. Perhaps one of the most striking and widely discussed was the news of the secret American UAV RQ-170 “Sentinel” (Sentinel) in the hands of the Iranian military. This unmanned stealth reconnaissance, which is perhaps the most high-tech device in its class, was planted (according to other sources, fell or landed) in Iran in early December and thus turned out to be a kind of New Year's gift to the leadership of the Islamic Republic (see MIC ", No. 50, 2011).
The main “workhorses” in this class of UAV systems in the past year remained the drones General Atomics MQ-1 Predator (Predator) and General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B). With their help, reconnaissance was carried out and strikes were made on ground targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. At the same time, the number of drones in the composition of the US Air Force was constantly increasing. At the start of the 2011, the US Air Force ordered the 24 unmanned aerial vehicle Reaper, and in December another 40. In addition, at the end of the year there were reports in the media that the Air Force was purchasing the Avenger / Predator C UAV - a further development of the Predators equipped with a turbofan engine and PAR. Apparently, in the near future they will be “run in” in Afghanistan.
If in the New World there is no doubt about the ways of further development of this direction - General Atomics is in fact a monopolist in this market segment in the USA, then in Europe it is not so clear. Here a number of projects are being implemented in parallel.
A few years ago, in order to close a niche of medium-altitude drone aircraft for a long flight duration, the French armed forces acquired a UAV lot in Israel. However, it was not just a purchase, but to some extent a joint project, in which on the one hand the Israeli company IAI participated with its UAV Heron, and on the other - the European concern EADS. The device, which has changed its name several times and is currently known as Harfang, is used by the French military, particularly in Afghanistan. Despite the seemingly successful operation of these UAVs, the Ministry of Defense of the Fifth Republic last year also decided to acquire the American Reaper. According to some sources, this may be explained by better integrability (interoperability) of overseas machines in NATO information systems.
At the same time, wanting to have their own systems, the French, though not quickly, are still developing the Talarion project. A full-size model of the future of the UAV is shown at the static parking of the Cassidian company at last year’s air show at Le Bourget.
The rival of this device is the British drone Mantis. The company BAE Systems, which for several previous years independently worked on the creation of this drone, last year announced it was joining the project, which in connection with this changed its name to Telemos, the French company Dassault Aviation. It is more advanced in terms of the implementation stage than Talarion, the unit performed its first flight two years ago. However, according to reports, the Parliament of the Fifth Republic did not approve funding for French participation in the project. So at the moment the chances of a Talarion UAV still look preferable.
Not averse to enter the club owners of unmanned systems MALE-class and some other states. Their intentions are stimulated by the desire to have drones of their own production and to be independent of the political situation, as well as in some cases by the inability to obtain such devices from the United States or Israel.
At the beginning of 2011, India demonstrated the Rustom UAV project at an exhibition in Bangalore. At about the same time in Turkey, the Anka made its first test flight. In the fall, during the Dubai Airshow, Adcom Systems from the United Arab Emirates surprised the public with a new unusual project United-40 with an S-shaped fuselage and a spaced-apart tandem wing of high elongation.
It is quite obvious that China, who repeatedly brought the Pterodactyl UAV model, which resembles a replica of the American Predator apparatus, wants to acquire the corresponding systems, is very eager to acquire the corresponding systems. The Chinese are well-known copyists, but for the time being it is difficult to say definitely whether this drone is a real project or is delivering a “dummy” from China, which is shown to divert attention.
Finally, the main event of the year in this class of devices for us, of course, is connected with the plans of the Russian Ministry of Defense. Domestic MALE should appear in two categories at once - 800 and 4500 kilograms, which brings to mind the analogy with the American Predator and Reaper. These vehicles will be developed for the Russian military department by Transas (St. Petersburg) and Sokol (Kazan). Both projects are expected to be led by a team led by one of our best-known specialists in the field of unmanned vehicles, Nikolai Dolzhenkov.
It seems that, firstly, this means that the Ministry of Defense lost confidence in the Concern of Radio Engineering Vega, which had previously been the main recipient of state funds as the main company developing unmanned systems. And secondly, it most likely indicates that the Luch UAV project, created on the basis of the manned light aircraft of the initial training "Sigma-5" of the same name KB from Rybinsk, which is part of the Vega concern, is closed.
Competition with the "shadow"
In the class of tactical systems, the past year also brought several new products. So, it became known that the American company AAI began flight tests of an improved version of the RQ-7 Shadow (“Shadow”) - the world's most famous unmanned tactical class system. The new Shadow-M2 will reportedly be different from the basic version with increased payload and improved onboard equipment integration. In addition, this initially reconnaissance drone could soon be equipped weapons - Raytheon has completed the first phase of testing a kilogram 5,5 small bombshell, created by the STM program (Small Tactical Munition - “Small Tactical Ammunition”) specifically for Shadow class devices.
The Russian company Aerokon (Kazan), in turn, created the Rubezh-30 UAV. Despite the fact that the general public, this system was presented only at the last MAKS last summer, according to the developer, it was already delivered to the first foreign customer in Venezuela.
Another interesting novelty could be seen at the end of May in the capital of Belarus at the MILEX exhibition of weapons and military equipment. This is the unmanned aerial vehicle "Grif-1", the work on which is being carried out quite successfully by a group of enterprises headed by the 558th aircraft repair plant (Baranovichi) and the Minsk design bureau INDELA. In a country neighboring Russia, a comprehensive state program for the development of unmanned vehicles is being implemented aviation systems. A reasonably well-thought-out UAV policy with clearly defined objectives, regular funding and monitoring of implementation seems to have begun to bear fruit.
Returning to domestic UAVs, it should be noted that over the past year, Transas has significantly improved the Dozor-100 UAV. In particular, the equipment AZN-B is now installed on it. The joint test flights of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles held at the end of spring near St. Petersburg, equipped with these respondents of automatic dependent surveillance, demonstrated practically the possibility of embedding unmanned systems into the existing air traffic control system (SUVD), and therefore the possibility of using them in general with other manned and unmanned aerial vehicles airspace. This is one of the solutions to a significant problem that impedes the massive proliferation of UAV systems.
In the mini-UAV class, one of the main events of 2011 of the year was the appearance in our country of the first vehicle with a hydrogen fuel cell. “Inspector 402” was shown at MAKS by Aerokon from Zhukovsky near Moscow, one of the first to promptly notice the global trend in the use of hydrogen fuel cells in this segment to increase the duration of the flight. And if the majority of foreign drones uses Singapore products, the Inspector is equipped with their domestic counterpart of the Kurchatov Institute.
According to the director of Aerokon, Eduard Baghdasaryan, the project was implemented in a relatively short time with the active participation of UAC engineering center Vladimir Kargopoltsev. Thus, Russia has demonstrated, on the one hand, adherence to world trends, and on the other, the ability not to purchase, but to create corresponding systems on its own.
The Enix company also significantly modified its unmanned vehicles. At the end of 2010, her “Eleron” was selected along with the apparatus of two other companies by a commission of the Russian Ground Forces following a comparative test. It can be said that this is exactly the very example when domestic experts studied foreign experience, thoroughly familiarizing themselves with Israeli mini-UAV models purchased by the Russian Defense Ministry and, creatively rethinking it, used some rational approaches in their own developments. It is expected that several dozen "Aileron" will go into service after passing state tests. In the meantime, the complex is actively used by civil and paramilitar (militarized) customers, demonstrating high reliability in various operating conditions, including outside the Arctic Circle.
At the end of the year, the Baltic Fleet acquired another Russian unmanned aerial complex, the Pear. According to the representative of this operational-strategic alliance, the machines are supposed to be equipped first of all with units of marines and motorized rifle formations of the coastal troops (79 of the separate guards motorized rifle brigade).
Were in 2011 year and news related to the helicopter-type UAV. So, in October, it became known that the US Navy and the Marine Corps (ILC) of the United States chose the K-MAX unmanned rotary-winged helicopter, operated by Lockheed Martin and Kaman, for deployment in Afghanistan. This decision was preceded by successfully completed tests. According to the results, it was confirmed that the K-MAX unmanned helicopter meets the requirements of the Navy and the ILC, namely, it is capable of delivering cargoes of 2700 kilograms per day and can be used to provide logistic support for the marines in Afghanistan.
Concern "Boeing" continues to work differently, also quite a large helicopter-type UAV - Little Bird. According to the available information, in June and July of the 2011, in the USA, tests on automatic landing of the UAV were successfully carried out, including on a mobile platform simulating the deck of a ship.
However, despite the efforts of competing companies, the Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout UAV remains the most famous project in the field of fairly large vehicles. During the year they were used during military operations in Afghanistan, and later in Libya. Issues of placing weapons on board these drones are now seriously being worked out. At the end of 2011, it became known that the US Navy would form a squadron fully staffed with UAV helicopters. The main contender is Fire Scout.
A very interesting project at the Dubai Air Show was presented by the Swiss company Unmanned Systems AG. The idea of its designers is to bring the engine out of the fuselage, placing it above the rotor, and as a result, make room for additional fuel tanks and equipment, eliminate the tail rotor, and solve the problem of icing the rotor.
However, if this Swiss project is still at the implementation stage - its readiness is expected next year, then the unmanned system of the Austrian Schiebel's Camcopter S-100 is already actively used in various countries of the world. In 2011, this one of the most commercially successful projects in the field of helicopter UAV systems also received a Russian “registration”.
The domestic company Horizont, which is one of the main suppliers of technical systems of the Border Guard Service of the Federal Security Service of Russia, has concluded an agreement on the creation of a licensed assembly production of Camcopter systems in Rostov-on-Don. According to experts, as early as the fall of 2011, on the border patrol ship of the 22460 “Rubin” project in the Novorossiysk region, successful tests were carried out, which included taking off, landing, detecting, tracking and recognizing a speedy unobtrusive surface type “whaleboat” maneuvering at a speed of 24 node .
The whole family of unmanned helicopters presented to the public KB INDELA - perhaps the most famous Belarusian company working in the field of development of drones. Last fall, it became aware of the experience of using one of them. The Sky Hunter helicopter, equipped with 12 caliber small arms mounted on a gyro-stabilized turret, successfully flew off at the autumn exercises in Belarus. The successes of KB INDELA did not go unnoticed in our country - according to available information, Russian Helicopters closely cooperate with the company in the creation of light UAVs.
In general, the specialists of Russian Helicopters, as follows from the report of the head of the unmanned unit of the holding Gennady Bebeshko, are working on projects to create several unmanned helicopters of various classes. Competition from Russian firms they can make, perhaps, only the St. Petersburg JSC "Scientific-production enterprise" Radar MMS ". However, it is obvious that until the customer represented by the Russian Ministry of Defense decides on the requirements of the relevant systems and does not allocate the necessary funding for work on them, they will be carried out in a sluggish mode.
Two interesting systems were shown last year to the public by the Israeli company IAI, better known as the creator of unmanned aircraft. The first is the UAV Panther, demonstrated at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget. It is a tiltrotor with three rotated propellers, which makes possible vertical takeoff and landing in helicopter mode and horizontal flight in airplane mode. According to representatives of the company, on the basis of this device is supposed to create a whole family of UAVs of different classes, which, apparently, will close the niche of tactical UAVs previously occupied by I-View systems. The second unit is a quadrocopter. Unlike most similar devices existing in the world, it is tethered, which makes it similar to aerostat systems - the duration of a drone’s flight is practically unlimited, since electric power is transmitted by cable from a ground station. In this case, the system is much smaller and faster to deploy.