Last year, the Kronshtadt group of companies showed for the first time a full-size mock-up of a promising unmanned aerial vehicle "Grom", and also disclosed basic data on this development. The new project is based on a number of interesting solutions that will provide high tactical and technical characteristics and broad combat capabilities. The high potential of the promising "Thunder" in the future will even be able to change the principles of combat aviation.
Exhibition and news
The premiere of the Thunder UAV project took place at the Army-2020 forum. In the open area, "Kronstadt" showed several mock-ups of unmanned vehicles, incl. previously unknown object of unusual appearance. Then representatives of the development organization revealed the calculated characteristics and expected capabilities of the "Thunder" being created.
The following news appeared at the end of February, in the wake of the visit of the leadership of the Ministry of Defense to the production site of "Kronstadt". Along with other products, the delegations showed a mock-up of the Molniya UAV. A little later, the media reported that such drones would be used as part of large groups controlled from the Thunder. The development company has confirmed this information.
Also this year, news about the combat capabilities of the new unmanned complex appeared several times. It was reported about the ability of "Thunder" to use existing aircraft weapons, as well as the development of new special samples.
However, the prospects of the project are still in question. The other day, Gazeta.ru, citing its sources, reported that the technical assignment for Thunder from the customer, represented by the Ministry of Defense, is not yet available. Accordingly, the developers cannot form the final look of the unmanned complex and begin development work.
Thus, at the moment, the general considerations and proposals of the development organization are known, and the detailed appearance of "Thunder" is probably not yet determined. Consequently, so far it is possible to assess only the appearance of the layout and the approximate characteristics of the future UAV, as well as to determine the prospects for the key proposals of the project.
Layouts and numbers
UAV "Thunder" is made in the form of a medium-sized aircraft, comparable to some modern fighters. The machine is built according to the normal aerodynamic configuration with a swept wing and V-shaped tail. The glider is distinguished by the characteristic contours necessary to reduce visibility. The air intake of the turbojet engine is placed on the upper surface of the fuselage to protect it from radiation from below. Coloration of the nose indicates the presence of an onboard radar station.
The Kronstadt company reported that the take-off weight of the drone will reach 7 tons. The payload is approx. 500 kg. Flight performance has not yet been disclosed. The device is called "high-speed", but even the range of maximum speeds, sub- or supersonic, remains unclear.
Onboard equipment "Groma" will have to provide an autonomous flight with the performance of these tasks or work on commands from the control point. It is planned to ensure compatibility with the Su-35S and Su-57 fighters, which will be able to control several UAVs.
In "Kronstadt" they said that the drone will receive several main tasks. Among other things, he will be responsible for combating enemy air defenses. In this case, the inconspicuous "Thunder" will have to break through the air defense and hit its targets; while manned aircraft will remain outside the danger zone.
Combat missions will be solved both independently and together with other UAVs. "Thunder" is considered as the leader of the small-sized loitering ammunition "Lightning". Such a drone is similar to the "Thunder" and is built according to a similar scheme, but differs significantly in size and weight.
"Thunder" will be able to carry and control several light "Lightning" or control devices launched from other carriers. The unmanned leader will have to receive data from all sources and issue commands to small UAVs. They will then be able to execute a coordinated strike against designated targets.
The ability of Thunder has been reported to employ a wide range of mainstream APS. It will be able to carry adjustable bombs and guided air-to-ground missiles, with which it will carry out strikes against air defense objects and other targets. This year it became known about the development of a new family of ammunition for domestic reconnaissance and strike UAVs. Perhaps these items will be included in the "Thunder" ammunition.
A model of the Molniya product is shown to the leadership of the military department, February 2021. Photo by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
Earlier, the company "Kronstadt" reported that the Ministry of Defense is showing interest in a new concept of an unmanned complex, on the basis of which the "Thunder" is built. Also, the military department understands the need for the construction of such equipment and its implementation in the troops. However, understanding and desire are not enough to create a new combat-ready complex. And in this respect, "Thunder" and "Lightning" are still facing some difficulties.
First of all, there is limited customer interest on the way of projects to success. The technical assignment for new UAVs is still missing, which does not allow the design to begin - and postpones the moment of creating an experimental technique or launching mass production. It is not known how soon the Ministry of Defense will determine its needs and order the development.
The creation of a glider, most likely, will not face any difficulties. Our aviation industry in general and Kronstadt in particular has the necessary technologies and competencies. At the same time, difficulties are to be expected in the engine line. At the moment we do not have a modern compact turbojet engine suitable for installation on the Thunder. Similar problems can arise with Lightning. However, in recent years, it has been possible to solve the main issues of the production of piston engines for UAVs, and in the future, similar processes in the field of turbojet engines may take place.
The key task of the new project will be the creation of hardware and software with all the proposed functions. In this respect, "Thunder" will seriously differ from the previous developments of "Kronstadt" and other organizations, which leads to certain difficulties. It should be recalled that in our country there is already a UAV project with similar capabilities. The S-70 "Okhotnik" product from the Sukhoi Design Bureau has already reached flight tests, incl. with work on commands from the board of the Su-57 fighter.
The concept of a complex with a leader drone and slave vehicles is quite complex. The development of such a project can be more difficult and time-consuming than the design of "single" reconnaissance and strike complexes. A successful solution to this problem will give several positive results at once. First of all, this will allow updating the VKS equipment park and giving them new opportunities. In addition, fundamentally new technologies will be created and mastered, which will become the basis for the further development of combat aviation, manned and unmanned.
The future is in question
Unmanned aerial vehicles "Thunder" and "Lightning" so far exist only at the level of concepts and in the form of two full-size models. Nevertheless, they are also of great interest to a potential customer and operator. The successful implementation of such ideas will significantly change the combat capabilities of the Aerospace Forces and reduce the main risks.
However, as it is now known, promising projects of the Kronstadt company have not yet entered the development stage due to the lack of terms of reference and a real order. So far, cooperation between the Ministry of Defense and the Kronstadt group is limited to the Orion, Sirius, etc. projects. It is not known how soon it will be expanded at the expense of "Lightning" and "Thunder".
However, the real situation may be more optimistic. It cannot be ruled out that theoretical work is already underway in the relevant organizations of the military department to determine the optimal appearance of new UAVs and search for their place in the aerospace forces. Its result will be a technical task and an order for the development of new technology - and thanks to this, not mock-ups will appear on one of the future forums, but full-fledged experienced drones of new models.