Today, it is expedient for Russia to focus on the development and adoption of unmanned aerial vehicles of aircraft type of carrier-based and small-sized helicopters of the helicopter type for ships of the cruiser class and less, which would control the air and surface conditions.
Over the past two decades, journalistic and analytical materials on the role and place of unmanned aerial vehicles in future wars and armed conflicts have not come from the pages of the military press, as well as other publications covering for a wide range of readers the problems of modern warfare. This is not surprising, since their importance in modern warfare is increasing from year to year.
In Russia, the creation of domestic unmanned aerial vehicles that meet all modern requirements is one of the most important tasks of the current stage of development of the Armed Forces. It is assumed that this type of weapon should be used in almost all types of the armed forces of our country.
Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Chirkov, characterizing the prospects for the development of the ship’s composition of our fleet and its marine aviation, pointed out that unmanned aerial vehicles should become one of the most important weapons of future ships of the main classes. This is consistent with the general direction of development of naval aviation in the advanced countries of the world. Thus, an unmanned aerial vehicle designed to be based on US aircraft carriers is adopted by the U.S. carrier-based aircraft. Recently, he successfully passed tests from the deck of an aircraft carrier.
However, in the open press, both special and designed for a wide range of readers, no publications on the future unmanned aircraft for our Navy, their possible characteristics, have yet been published.
In this regard, it is very interesting to analyze what the role and place of unmanned aerial vehicles in our Navy can be, what tasks it is advisable to assign to them and, accordingly, what tactical and technical characteristics they should possess.
Defining the role and place of unmanned aerial vehicles in the weapons system of the Russian Navy, it should be assumed that they should be used where the use of manned aircraft is impossible or impractical. At least in the first stage of development of this type of weapon.
First, it is advisable to use drones for solving problems associated with a high risk of aviation losses from the effects of enemy air defense forces and assets. The relative simplicity of the UAVs determines their lower price compared to manned aircraft.
For modern warfare in the air, it is especially important to eliminate the risk of loss of flight personnel. The combat capability of modern aviation groups is crucially determined by the availability of trained flight personnel. Meanwhile, it takes more than ten years to train a qualified pilot, while it takes a maximum of several weeks to produce one aircraft, even the most complex and expensive.
Secondly, it is reasonable to use the UAVs in the interests of ensuring the activities of such ships, which, without having the capabilities of basing on board a sufficient number of aircraft, need to apply their weapons in aerial support. Having drones on board such ships will make them (and groups) independent of support for coastal aviation.
Thirdly, UAVs can be used to solve relatively simple tasks that allow formalizing the processes of developing and making decisions in the course of their implementation and not requiring the mandatory presence of a person.
Finally, unmanned aerial vehicles are capable of providing a higher operational intensity of their use than manned. Therefore, they can be used to solve such problems that require actions of aviation with high intensity for a long time.
Consider the main tactical and operational tasks in the solution of which it is advisable to use unmanned aerial vehicles.
Against surface ships and boats
One such task is the fight against enemy ground forces, above all aircraft carrier forces. To this end, heterogeneous strike formations are created, including surface ships, submarines and naval aviation.
The main striking force of such compounds is long-range and medium-range anti-ship missiles used from surface ships, submarines and naval aircraft. Their use at full range is possible only if they receive timely target designation from external sources.
The decisive condition for the success of such connections is the timely detection of the enemy carrier group and long-term monitoring of it, without which it is very difficult to create the necessary operational construction of a heterogeneous strike connection that allows you to organize simultaneous strikes of groups of ships and submarines from different directions.
To meet the challenges of reconnaissance and target designation, modern Russian ocean fleets have only a few units of reconnaissance aircraft, as well as nuclear submarines.
Meanwhile, the aircraft carrier connections of the probable enemy possess a powerful air defense system, echeloned in depth to 500 and more than kilometers from the core of their battle formation. Therefore, acting alone or in small groups, reconnaissance aircraft, being in the far zone of the air defense of such a compound, under the influence of enemy fighter aircraft will be quickly destroyed and will not be able to solve the tasks assigned to them.
Nuclear submarines for reliable classification of the enemy’s order will have to enter at least the middle zone of the enemy’s anti-submarine defense, from where they will still have to periodically contact for the transfer of guidance or target designation data. This makes them very vulnerable, and the task of providing timely and accurate reconnaissance information of the heterogeneous strike formations is difficult.
Under these conditions, the creation of unmanned aerial vehicles capable of conducting reconnaissance of enemy surface ships in the context of countering air defense (along with the reconstruction of the system of marine space intelligence) is the most effective way to solve this problem.
Such an aircraft-type unmanned aerial vehicle must have a range of at least 2000 – 3000 kilometers. Its electronic weapons should include a powerful radar station that can detect surface targets at a distance of at least 400 – 500 kilometers, means of detecting fighters, air-to-air and ground-to-air missiles, radio-electronic suppression of self-defense, as well as long-distance communications, giving the ability to transmit intelligence information in real time to the ships of the compound.
The altitude range of such an unmanned aerial vehicle should allow it to operate both at extremely low altitudes and in the stratosphere, at altitudes 25 – 30 kilometers and above. This will make it very difficult for enemy fighter aviation to act against it, and will also allow for the implementation of extreme detection limits for surface targets.
Such an unmanned aerial vehicle for departure (five to six hours) will be able to survey an operationally important area of up to 800 thousands of square miles or provide observation of the enemy’s shipboard connection and issue intelligence data about it for two to three hours.
With the possible intensity of using three or four sorties per day, about four unmanned aerial vehicles will be required to solve the reconnaissance task of the enemy’s naval connection. The mass of one drone using modern technologies and materials can range from 5 – 7 to 15 – 20 tons, depending on the flight range and the composition of electronic weapons. Accordingly, it can be based on an aircraft carrier or on a ground airfield.
With such dimensions and weight of the UAV, it is theoretically possible to launch from the launcher of the Basalt / Granit missile complex. However, there is the problem of his return to the ship. Without its solution, the drone will become virtually disposable - after the first launch, it will either be lost or forced to return to the coastal airfield (or aircraft carrier).
An equally important task is the reconnaissance of the fight against enemy light forces, primarily its missile boats. The peculiarities of the latter’s actions - from an ambush, suddenly, in small groups in the coastal zone make the task of continuous monitoring of sea space to a depth of 200 – 300 kilometers from the surface ships warrant in organizing the anti-hacking defense. The existing means of the group of surface ships, especially those that do not have group-based capabilities of ship aviation, cannot do this. A small-sized unmanned aerial vehicle of a helicopter type is capable of solving the problem. With a range of 600 – 800 kilometers and a 100 – 120 patrol speed, kilometers per hour, the UAVs at a distance of 100 – 150 kilometers can patrol two to four hours.
If the range of the onboard radar will allow detecting small surface targets at a distance of up to 100 – 150 kilometers, then the surface situation will be monitored at the required distance in threatened directions. At the same time, to ensure the continuity of observation, up to four such UAVs on warrant ships are sufficient.
The small size and small distance from the ships of the order to patrol areas will minimize the threat from the enemy's air defense system, and also significantly reduce the requirements for the capabilities of the communication system, which must transmit data on the situation at a distance of 150 kilometers.
Accordingly, the dimensions in which such a drone can be made will be relatively small - within 500 – 700 kilograms. This will make it possible to have a destroyer, a large anti-submarine, and a frigate of two or three unmanned aerial vehicles on every ship.
Such drones can also be used on ships of a corvette class or a small rocket ship during single basing, which will allow creating a full-fledged combat anti-hacking system based on a group of three or four ships that, using their drones, will be able to independently and timely detect groups of missile boats of the enemy and deliver on them proactive missile strikes.
UAVs in the airspace control system
Another major task that can be assigned to naval unmanned aerial vehicles is the control of the airspace in the interests of providing air defense of the naval connections.
To enter shipboard fighter aircraft from a duty position on the deck, it is necessary to be able to detect enemy air groups at a distance of at least 600 – 700 kilometers and provide guidance to them of fighters. This will allow them to enter into battle at a distance of 250 – 300 kilometers from protected ships, that is, to the point of launch of enemy anti-ship and anti-radar missiles.
Today, this task in the Russian Navy is being solved through the use of DRLO and U-based A-50 aircraft and its modifications or DRLO and U-based Ka-31 helicopters. The first of them can participate in providing air defense of naval connections only within the near sea zone. The latter have very limited capabilities in terms of detection of air targets, time and range of patrols. Therefore, in the distant sea and ocean zones, a full-fledged radar field in the interests of using ship fighters cannot be created.
The problem can be solved with the help of unmanned aircraft XRD. It is advisable to limit their functions in the air defense system of the ship's connection only to the detection and observation of air targets at a large distance with the transmission of this data to the ship control posts of the air defense systems and fighter aircraft. This will minimize the amount of electronic equipment on board the unmanned aerial vehicle. Its airborne radar must detect fighter-type air targets at such a distance to allow the drone to avoid enemy fighter attacks, that is, be at least 300 – 400 kilometers. The transmission distance of the observation data to the ships must be at least 300 kilometers.
The unmanned aerial vehicle needs to have such high-speed data so that it can evade enemy fighter attacks by timely entering the zone of action of its own forces and air defense weapons. To do this, it is enough to have a maximum speed of 1000 kilometers per hour. The duration of patrols at a distance 200 – 250 kilometers from the home-based ship must be at least two to three hours.
It is not necessary to equip such an unmanned aerial vehicle with self-defense means, since its combat stability will be ensured in the general air defense system of the ship connection. With such characteristics, in order to be able to continuously patrol two such unmanned aircraft on threatened routes, it is necessary to have four or five cars. The mass of this unmanned aircraft can be no more than 15 tons, which determines its basing on aircraft carriers.
The use of such an aircraft as part of an aircraft carrier's air group has a number of advantages compared with manned aircraft. Among the most important of them should be noted the higher combat stability, the elimination of the risk of loss of flight personnel in solving airspace control tasks, a relatively low cost, as well as much smaller volumes of ship hangars they occupy, which will make it possible to place more aircraft on the aircraft carrier.
Another important task of providing air defense of ship formations, especially those that do not include aircraft carriers, is the timely detection of groups of attacking airborne assaults at low and extremely low altitudes. For the timely commissioning of the maximum amount of air defense weapons (based on their tactical-technical characteristics and enemy anti-ship missiles known from open sources), they must be detected at least 200 – 250 kilometers away from the order. Airspace surveillance equipment in service with surface ships does not allow this to be done - their detection range is limited by a radio horizon.
This task can be solved today by developing and adopting a small-sized unmanned aerial vehicle of a helicopter type. Its electronic armament may well be limited to radar detection of airborne targets with a range of low-altitude small targets up to 100 – 120 kilometers and communications equipment that provides broadcast information about the air situation to remove 150 – 200 kilometers.
The requirements for the range and duration of the flight are similar to those that were imposed on a small-sized drone to control the surface situation in the interests of shipwatching barriers. This allows you to assign these two functions to the same aircraft.
Other tasks that may be assigned to unmanned aerial vehicles are not currently so critical. Therefore, today it is advisable to focus on the development and adoption of the three priority types of unmanned aerial vehicles.
1. The aircraft carrier-based type for aerial reconnaissance of large ship connections.
2. Aircraft carrier-based type to control the air situation in the far and middle zones of air defense of naval connections.
3. Small-sized helicopter type for control of air and sea conditions for cruiser class ships and less.
In the future, with the accumulation of experience in the use of UAVs and the improvement of technologies for their creation, it is possible to develop a wide range of such aircraft, not only reconnaissance, but also strike missions.