Aerospace Forces

Russian Strategic Mission UAVs: A long overdue breakthrough – Part I

When it comes to drone technology, Russia has been playing catch up with the west, especially US and Israel, for quite a while. At the beginning of this century, Russia realised that it needs to bridge this gap if it is to be serious about the Russian army modernisation plans that it was about to undertake at the time. Some rather basic indigenous unmanned aerial vehicles(UAVs) where employed during both Chechen campaigns. Post August 2008 war with Georgia, certain Russian high brass were quite irked with the Russian army’s performance. Loosing six jets, amongst them one strategic bomber, to a country of under four million people, in a conflict that lasted just five days, was certainly no achievement to be proud of. In particular, it was Georgia’s use of Israeli made long-endurance Hermes 450 drones for battlefield reconnaissance that left the Russian army scratching its head. Spurred by the arguable successes of the American UAV warfare in Afghanistan, Iraq and its, at most times, surgical drone assassinations around the world, Russia became very keen to join the elite club of strategic mission UAV capable nations.

Given that Russia’s lag in drone technology was quite considerable, measured in decades rather than years, Russian defence ministry thought it quickest to import some relatively advanced UAVs from the world leader in drone technology – Israel. Russia’s military-industrial complex was hoping to glean significant know-how from this transaction, and skip some expensive and time consuming research and development in the process. In effect, the goal was to get the Russian army’s own UAV capabilities close to those of the West in the shortest time possible.

In autumn 2010, after some negotiations, Russia and Israel signed a $400 million dollar deal for subsequent delivery of the Bird-Eye 400 mini-UAV, I-View Mk150 – small tactical UAV and Searcher Mk II – medium-range UAV, all manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries(IAI). But Russia’s ambitions were much greater and the star prize of the deal was to be technology transfer of an advanced, long-range, mid-altitude UAV – Heron TP. In exchange, Russia was to curtail export of advanced armaments to Israel’s arch nemeses – Iran and Syria. Furthermore, according to Wikileaks, American officials believed that Russia and Israel traded intelligence, with Israel providing “data link codes” on Georgia’s Hermes 450 reconnaissance UAVs and Russia – on Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange. In the end, Israel’s own sensitivities regarding Heron TP UAV transfer and likely U.S. pressure prevailed and that part of the deal was scrapped.

Many years prior to the aforementioned affair, Russian Yakovlev Design Bureau started work on what is probably the most mysterious, if not ambitious, indigenous UAV to date – large, long-range, high attitude Proryv – meaning breakthrough or rapture in English. Initially known as Yak-133BM, it was to utilise components and development experience from one rare success story of torpid 90s – advanced Yak-130 trainer jet. More than ten years since the Proryv project commenced, and twenty since it was first conceived and details still remain very sketchy.

Some sources claim that Proryv is to have between 50-70% of common parts with Yak-130, which is bound to reduce production time and cost once it goes ahead. It is apparently stealthy with internal weapon bays and is to come in three distinct variants: attack Proryv-U(Udarnyi), reconnaissance Proryv-R(Razvedchyk) and AWACS Proryv-RLD(Radio-lokatsiony Dozor). On September 07, 2016, Izvestia reported that successful flight test of the Proryv UAV was carried out a month earlier, in August 2016. Featured below is yet unconfirmed general and performance characteristics chart for all three Proryv variants.

Proryv chart

To be continued…

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