Deficit of our UAVs
Since the beginning an armed conflict between Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) the topic of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) does not leave the pages of specialized publications. Previously, UAVs showed themselves excellently in conflicts in Syria and Libya, successfully destroying ground targets and sometimes even winning in a confrontation with the latest Russian anti-aircraft missile-gun systems (ZRPK) "Pantsir".
In Russia, for a long time, there was a rather serious lag in the development and adoption of UAVs for service. This is especially true for high-altitude long-range UAVs such as HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance), designed for flights at altitudes over 14 meters, and MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) class, at altitudes of 000-4 meters.
Turning point 2020
Despite the situation with the coronavirus COVID-19, which significantly influenced the implementation of many projects around the world, 2020 may become a turning point in terms of equipping the Russian armed forces with UAVs of various types.
First of all, this is the adoption into service on April 20, 2020 of the Orion complex, which includes UAVs, which can be attributed to the lower threshold of the HALE class. Also in 2020, presumably completed tests of the heavier UAV "Altair" / "Altius-U" (the last designation "Altius-RU"), which allows us to cautiously expect its appearance in service in 2021.
The first Russian UAV system "Orion" of the HALE class, adopted for service. A still from the NTV "Smotr" program. High technologies: new Russian drones
The heavy UAV S-70 "Okhotnik" is undergoing tests, in the design of which the technologies of reducing the signature are widely used. According to the head of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) in August 2020, the "Okhotnik" should be put into service in 2024.
And finally, at the Army-2020 exhibition, mock-ups of the promising Sirius, Helios and Thunder UAVs, designed by the specialists of the Kronshtadt Group, were shown.
UAV models (top-down) "Sirius", "Helios" and "Thunder". Source: (c) Said Aminov / saidpvo.livejournal.com
The main problems
The main problems in creating domestic UAVs are the lack of the necessary highly efficient engines and onboard electronics.
An even more significant limiting factor that hinders the operation of UAVs at a great distance from the control point is the absence of domestic global systems of high-speed jam-resistant satellite communications.
This is especially evident when operating UAVs of the HALE and MALE class.
At the same time, there is a certain class of UAVs for which the absence of satellite communication systems is not a critical drawback. These are UAVs, which are controlled from the side of manned aerial vehicles and with which these UAVs work within the framework of solving one problem. Of the Russian projects, the aforementioned Okhotnik UAV and Thunder UAV are focused on solving this problem.
The Okhotnik UAV, developed by Sukhoi, is a complex and expensive vehicle weighing about 20 tons.
Its complexity and cost can be comparable to that of the fifth generation Su-57 fighter.
The tasks that it can solve, and the possible tactics of its use, deserve a separate article.
Given the delays in the implementation of the Su-57 aircraft project, it can be expected that the timing of the Okhotnik UAV development will also be shifted by at least several years.
In this article, we will consider conceptually a much simpler UAV "Thunder" and its foreign counterparts (the projects of which were actually announced before it).
The Skyborg program, implemented by the US Air Force (Air Force), aims to create a slave UAV for manned combat aircraft. A distinctive feature of the UAVs created under the Skyborg program should be the high intellectualization of the aircraft. In fact, the US Air Force wants to get an autonomous robot capable of taking not only risk, but also partial analysis and processing of information. In the future, such UAVs should completely replace humans.
US Air Force Skyborg render.
Skyborg program presentation.
While artificial intelligence is far from the capabilities of the human brain, the slave UAVs can perform equally important tasks. Conduct reconnaissance and jamming. To strike at ground and, in the long term, at air targets. Sacrificing yourself to open up enemy air defense systems.
The variety of tasks assigned to the UAV can create a contradiction.
On the one hand, in order to hack an air defense system, inexpensive UAVs are needed (which, if necessary, can themselves be used as ammunition - a kind of cruise missile).
On the other hand, to solve complex problems (for example, confrontation with high-tech manned enemy fighters), UAVs must have an appropriate technical level, which will inevitably affect the rise in their cost.
Based on the foregoing, it can be assumed that as part of the Skyborg program, several UAVs can be created at once, designed to solve different problems.
Since the summer of 2020, Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems and Northrop Grumman Systems have been working on the Skyborg program, each of which has been awarded contracts worth about $ 400 million.
Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems is developing the XQ-58 Valkyrie UAV. Its main purpose is reconnaissance and penetration of enemy air defenses. Thus, it is a direct analogue of the Thunder UAV.
The length of the XQ-58 Valkyrie UAV hull is about 9 meters. The wingspan is about 7 meters. The maximum speed is 1 kilometers per hour. The ceiling is 050 meters. Ferry range is about 13 kilometers.
The XQ-58 Valkyrie UAV body is made using stealth technologies and is focused on overcoming ground air defense - the minimum effective dispersion surface (EPR) should be in the front-lower hemisphere.
Test flight of the prototype UAV XQ-58 Valkyrie.
The armament is housed in the internal compartments at four suspension points with a load capacity of 250 kg each. The XQ-58 Valkyrie UAV should be equipped with optical and radar reconnaissance equipment, a remote control system and an autopilot.
One of the most important criteria for the development of the XQ-58 Valkyrie UAV, Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems calls the maximum reduction in the cost of its production and maintenance. UAV XQ-58 Valkyrie is created on the basis of an air target. It is assumed that its cost will be $ 2-3 million.
The Loyal Wingman UAV is being developed by the Boeing Airpower Teaming System for the Australian Air Force. It is assumed that it will be used as a wingman with tactical aircraft aviation F-35A and F / A-18F, Boeing EA-18G electronic warfare (EW) aircraft, Boeing P-8A anti-submarine aircraft and E-7A Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft (AWACS).
Considering almost the same requirements, there is no doubt that the Loyal Wingman UAV in one form or another will / takes part in the Skyborg program.
The Boeing Loyal Wingman UAV is larger than the XQ-58 Valkyrie UAV - its length is almost 12 meters. The flight range should be at least 3700 kilometers, which will be provided by a highly efficient turbojet engine used in "civilian" aircraft. UAV Boeing Loyal Wingman is made using low-signature technology. In the bow, it is equipped with a 2,6 meter long compartment for accommodating various types of equipment.
Boeing Loyal Wingman UAV presentation
Some sources say that only modular reconnaissance, communications or electronic warfare equipment will be placed in the internal compartment. In this case, the weapons will be located on an external sling. Which is somewhat strange, given the large dimensions of the Loyal Wingman UAV compared to the XQ-58 Valkyrie UAV and the decrease in stealth characteristics with this method of placing weapons.
Among the declared goals of the UAV Loyal Wingman is to carry out reconnaissance and strike at ground targets, electronic warfare and use it as a decoy target.
Of the machines of this class, you can still remember the German-Spanish Barracuda UAV. This car has more modest characteristics. With a length of about 8 meters and a dead weight of 2 kg, the payload is 300 kg, the service ceiling is up to 300 meters, and the range is 6 kilometers. The main task of the Barracuda UAV is reconnaissance. Although its use is not excluded for performing shock tasks.
As mentioned above, the Thunder UAV model was presented at the Army-2020 exhibition by the Kronstadt group. Externally, the Thunder UAV resembles the XQ-58 Valkyrie UAV. Which is not surprising. Considering that they are created to solve the same problems. However, in size it exceeds both the Valkyrie and the Faithful Slave. Length 13,8 meters. Wingspan 10 meters. Like its American counterparts, the Thunder UAV is being implemented taking into account technologies to reduce the signature.
The flight speed of the “Thunder” UAV should reach 1 kilometers per hour, cruising speed - 000 kilometers per hour. The service ceiling will be 800 meters. Presumably, the AI-12-000 turbojet engine used on the Yak-222 training aircraft will be installed on the Thunder UAV.
Article Find an aircraft carrier: to replace the Tu-95RTs we said that this engine had already been considered for use in the Zond-1 and Zond-2 UAVs of the Sukhoi Design Bureau. Apparently, this is the most economical domestic solution available to Russian UAV developers.
For UAV "Thunder" declared combat range of 700 kilometers. On the one hand, it seems smaller than the XQ-58 Valkyrie UAV and the Loyal Wingman UAV. For which the range can be over 1 kilometers (based on the ferry range). On the other hand, the range is sometimes indicated taking into account the time for UAV loitering in the target area. The range of communication systems for UAV control may also act as a limiting factor.
In general, for the Russian training aircraft Yak-130, equipped with two AI-222-25 engines, a flight range of 2 km is declared. And for its Chinese counterpart Hongdu L-000, equipped with similar AI-15-222F forced engines, the declared flight range is 25 km, with a lower maximum take-off weight of the latter.
Taking into account the above, it can be assumed that a ferry range of the order of 3-000 kilometers may well be achieved for the Thunder UAV.
UAV model "Thunder". Source: BMPD, bmpd.livejournal.com
The maximum payload mass of the Thunder UAV is 2 kg. Which is presumably larger than the XQ-000 Valkyrie UAV and the Loyal Wingman UAV. A variety of guided weapons can be used as weapons: the Kh-58ML guided missile, the KAB-38S and KAB-500LG corrected air bombs, the promising Product 250 guided missile with a multispectral homing head.
It can be noted that (in comparison with the American Skyborg program) UAV "Thunder" is more focused on performing shock functions in the role of "unmanned attack aircraft". On the implementation of such tasks as electronic warfare, issued armory aircraft armament platform or relay of communication of speech is not yet in progress. Perhaps these tasks will be assigned to the larger, more complex and expensive UAV "Okhotnik" or later implemented.
Intelligence is also indicated by the last item. At the same time, in front of the "Thunder" UAV mock-up there is a pronounced radio-transparent radome fairing. For the use of some samples of high-precision weapons, optoelectronic reconnaissance equipment will also be required.
Does the Russian Air Force need a Thunder-type UAV?
On the one hand, such UAVs will inevitably be more expensive than simpler solutions such as the Orion UAV. On the other hand, with the development of anti-UAV-oriented air defense, low-speed solutions with piston motors may become too easy a target. Although jet UAVs are likely to be more visible in the infrared and acoustic ranges. Ultimately, most likely all types of UAVs will be operated, each of which will occupy its own niche.
The interaction of the Thunder UAV with manned combat aircraft raises a question. (When the UAVs developed under the Skyborg program are assigned the functions of electronic warfare, relay communication or a remote weapon platform when working against air targets, they will require minimal intervention from tactical aviation pilots. On the other hand, when attacking ground targets, the pilot will need to pay the UAV much more time, which can endanger the "leader"). To what extent will the Thunder UAV be automated and will it not become a burden for its leader?
Article Where will the combat aircraft go: will it press down on the ground or gain altitude?? the author concluded that manned aircraft will go to great heights. And at low altitudes only UAVs will remain. Manned tactical aircraft will be used only to engage especially important targets, while UAVs will carry out the main work.
In view of the above, the concept of "tactical manned aircraft + UAV attack aircraft" can be questioned. It is in terms of the defeat of ground targets. Since the use of slave UAVs as a carrier of electronic warfare means, carried out reconnaissance or weapons can be extremely effective. But in our case, it will most likely be a bunch of Su-57 + UAV S-70 (Hunter).
According to the author, the best solution for destroying ground targets would be to use Tu-214R reconnaissance aircraft as a control center for UAVs, including the Thunder-type UAV.
Tu-214R is now the most modern reconnaissance aircraft of the Russian Air Force. It is equipped with a multi-frequency radio engineering complex MRK-411 with lateral and circular radar stations developed by TsNIRTI im. Academician A.I. Berg, as well as the high-resolution optical-electronic system "Fraction". The estimated detection range of radar targets in the active mode is 250 kilometers, the detection range of the enemy radar in the passive radio reconnaissance mode is up to 400 kilometers.
Presumably, the internal volumes of the Tu-214R will make it possible to place the equipment for controlling the Grom UAV. It is difficult to say how many UAV operators can be accommodated in the Tu-214R. Their probable number may be at least eight people. In this case, the Tu-214R can detect targets using both its own reconnaissance means and UAV reconnaissance means, and then promptly destroy them.
Automated operator's workstation in the Tu-214R aircraft.
The strike group may include UAVs of the "Thunder" type with various payloads and missions (strike UAVs, UAVs with electronic warfare equipment, with anti-radar weapons, with false targets, with an additional suspended reconnaissance container, etc.), which will allow flexible building tactics attacks.
UAVs "Thunder" will be able to operate at a distance of up to 250 kilometers from the Tu-214R aircraft and more, if communication systems allow. The “wave” raid mode can be implemented, when the “Thunder” UAVs will be based at the airfield. Automatically or under control of a ground-based UAV will take off and advance on autopilot into the Tu-214R patrol zone. Under the control of operators on board the Tu-214R, strike the enemy and automatically return to the home base for refueling, servicing and recharging. In parallel, the second "wave" of the UAV will move out from the airfield. It will turn out something like “tank carousel "used by the Russian Armed Forces during the Chechen war.
If the communication and control systems of the UAVs "Thunder", "Orion", "Altair" and others are unified, the aviation control center based on the Tu-214R can be used to solve combat missions of UAVs of different types, using their strengths. If such unification is not envisaged, then it must be implemented now, while the Russian Armed Forces are not yet saturated with UAVs.
If, for some reason, the placement of the UAV control point on the Tu-214R is impossible (for example, due to the high cost of reconnaissance equipment and / or its significant dimensions, which do not allow placing the communication and control systems of the UAV), then a specialized solution can be created based on Tu-214PU (control center) or Tu-214USUS (airborne communication center). The advantage of these machines is the increased flight range of up to 10 kilometers due to the installation of additional fuel tanks under the cockpit floor. The number of UAV operators can also be increased.
High intensity fire impact
The combination of a reconnaissance aircraft / UAV control aircraft with high-speed Thunder-type UAVs (and other types of UAVs) will make it possible to carry out high-intensity fire impact on the enemy with practically no risk of loss of manned combat aircraft (of course, while providing cover for the control center from enemy aircraft). One of the advantages of the Tu-214R + UAV "Thunder" bundle is that there is no need for high-speed jam-resistant satellite communication channels.
This decision can "close" the era of jet attack aircraft of the Su-25 type and front-line bombers of the Su-24 / Su-34 type, as well as significantly reduce the need to use sophisticated and expensive fifth-generation Su-57 fighters to attack ground targets.