UAV and counter-UAV capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation

ZALA-421-16E5, tactical operation unmanned aerial reconnaissance system

The Russian Federation lagged significantly behind in unmanned platforms a decade ago if compared with the USA, Peoples Republic of China, and even Israel, but now it is catching up. 

The government’s efforts in this area are manifested in a multitude of ongoing advanced development projects on a wide range of unmanned platforms such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned underwater/surface vehicles, and unmanned ground vehicles for combat and combat support functions. 

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UAVs

A decade ago the Russian Armed Forces possessed less than 200 UAVs, and now this figure stands at over 2000, and each year is replenished by 300. Furthermore, the Russian defence industry is conducting R&D on the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in UAVs, with the ambition to enable them to perform as unified “swarms of drones” in combat zones. Sources claim, that this was already tested in 2020, during the Kavkaz-2020 military exercise. 

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During the past decade, Russia has been catching up on the development of various types of UAVs, especially huge progress was made in developing smaller tactical UAV reconnaissance systems. In that regard, there are multiple manufacturers that supply the Russian Armed Forces. The most known UAVs are “Granat”, the Izhmash “Mukha” micro-UAV, and “Takhion” UAV.

The official trials of the Granat-6 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from Russian defense contractor Izhmash-Unmanned Systems will commence late in 2015 or early in 2016, Yevgeny Zaitsev, the manufacturer’s deputy director for development.

Granat UAV family (source: https://www.armyrecognition.com/october_2015_global_defense_security_news_uk/izhmash-unmanned_systems_will_start_trials_of_the_granat-6_unmanned_aerial_vehicle_tass_12310151.html)

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Mukha

Mukha micro-UAV (source: https://www.deagel.com/Cannons%20&%20Gear/Mukha/a003248

https://topwar.ru/uploads/posts/2017-11/thumbs/1511739422_tahion1.jpg

The launch of Tachyon UAV (source: https://en.topwar.ru/130557-malyy-bespilotnyy-letatelnyy-apparat-tahion.html

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Zastava UAV (source: https://jamestown.org/program/syrian-experience-provides-new-impetus-for-russias-uav-strategy-part-two/

Grusha UAV

Grusha mini UAV (source: https://www.uasvision.com/2011/12/21/russia-introduces-mini-uas-to-baltic-fleet/

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ZALA 421-08 ISSE-2012.jpg

ZALA 421-08 Micro UAV (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZALA_421-08)

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Full set of the Eleron-3SV system (source: https://informnapalm.org/en/russian-eleron-3sv-drone-destroyed-in-donbas-video-interesting-facts-revealed/)

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While speaking about medium-range UAVs Russian companies manufacture a few versions of them. The “Orlan-10” is a medium-range, multi-purpose UAV widely used by Russian troops. There are more than 1000 pieces manufactured, and it was seen in action in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh. It carries a daylight camera, a thermal imaging camera, a video camera, and a radio transmitter in a gyro-stabilised camera pod that is fitted under the fuselage. The cameras provide real-time intelligence, 3D maps, surveillance, and aerial reconnaissance of ground-based targets. The imagery, video, and other sensor data collected by the payloads are transmitted to the ground control station in real-time, through a data link using 3G/4G cellular networks. The “Orlan-10” is fitted with electronic warfare (EW) capability and can differentiate between friendly and enemy means of transmitting information. It can mount interference transmitters and set up zones for cellular jamming. Currently, there is an updated version released that has reduced radar signature, and a laser designator to pinpoint targets for precision-guided artillery and aircraft munitions.

Orlan-10 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) - Airforce Technology

Orlan-10 UAV (source: https://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/orlan-10-unmanned-aerial-vehicle-uav/)

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The “Korsar” is a 200 kg combat UAV with a six and a half meter wingspan. The platform is able to operate in a strike role, deploying both guided and unguided munitions, as well as conducting reconnaissance from high altitudes. The drone is designed to perform in a radius of 200 km.

Russian Korsar Fixed Wing Attack Drone

Korsar UAV (source: https://militarywatchmagazine.com/article/russia-unveils-its-first-ever-combat-uav-what-to-expect-from-the-korsar-attack-drone)

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The Russian Company Zala recently presented a “ZALA-421-16E5” tactical operation unmanned aerial reconnaissance system. The UAV flight duration is 6-7 hours, the flight range up to 150 km, the monitored area can exceed 21,000 sq km in a single launch.

The Russian Company Zala Aero (subdivision of Kalashnikov Concern) presented a new ZALA-421-16E5 tactical operation unmanned aerial reconnaissance system at Interpolitex 2015, the International Exhibition of Homeland Security in Moscow. This unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has great autonomy and mobility.

ZALA-421-16E5 UAV (source: 

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https://www.armyrecognition.com/weapons_defence_industry_military_technology_uk/russian_company_zala_aero_presents_new_zala-421-16e5_tactical_unmanned_aerial_vehicle_tass_12210151.html)

The “Zala Vtol” UAV is capable of creating photographic maps. The UAV’s electric propulsion system allows the vehicle to stay in the air for four hours and travel at a maximum range of 200 km. The drone does not require a specially equipped launch site as the “Zala Vtol” combines the properties of an aeroplane-type drone and a tilt-rotor aircraft. A 500-gigabyte solid-state drive encrypted in the “Zala Vtol” allows the drone to store and transfer 24-megapixel photos and extensive video footage.

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Unmanned aerial system  ZALA 421-16Е

Zala Vtol UAV (source: https://zala-aero.com/en/production/bvs/zala-421-16ev-vtol/)

In addition, Russia has several ongoing development projects for combat UAV systems reportedly nearing completion. These projects include the long-endurance “Altair”, the medium-altitude long-endurance “Orion”, and the heavy, combat-UAV jet, “S-70 Okhotnik”. These projects seek to address Russia’s lack of strike drones, a capability gap that has become increasingly obvious both in Syria and the war over Nagorno-Karabakh in autumn 2020.

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Altair UAV prototype (source: https://www.reddit.com/r/aviation/comments/lptnhy/russian_altair_uav_prototype/)

Both “Altair” and “Orion” have had serious difficulties with their engine development. Initially, the projects used foreign engines, but following the sanctions, Russia has struggled to build its own engines for UAVs. 

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Elements of Orion system – three UAVs and a mobile command point (source: http://afterburner.com.pl/more-ucavs-for-the-russian-armed-forces-in-2021/)

“Okhotnik”, in turn, is a long-distance strike UAV, that is seen as a prototype for the sixth generation of Russian fighters. Its origins date back to 2009 when Sukhoi and MiG worked jointly on a heavy, strike drone. The “Okhotnik” has a projected top speed of 1000 km/h and weighs up to 20 tonnes. The “Okhotnik” incorporates some technologies from the “Su-57” but has also been delayed by a number of years. The first prototype was revealed in 2017; ground tests of the engine started in late 2018; test flights took place in August 2019. There are speculations that serial deliveries of “Okhotnik”, from the Novosibirsk Aviation Plant, would begin by 2024.

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Russian heavy combat UAV Sukhoi S 70 Okhotnik made its first flight

UAV Okhotnik (source: https://www.armyrecognition.com/august_2019_global_defense_security_army_news_industry/russian_combat_uav_sukhoi_s-70_okhotnik_made_first_flight.html)

Furthermore, at the Army 2021 exhibition two contracts were signed by the Russian army. The first contract was signed with the Kronshtadt company for the supply of the “Inokhodets-RU” strike UAVs and the second contract was inked with Uzga company for the supply of “Forpost-R” UAVs.

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Army Recognition Global Defense and Security news

Inokhodets-RU strike UAV (also known as Sirius, source: https://www.armyrecognition.com/defense_news_september_2021_global_security_army_industry/russian_inokhodets_and_orlan-10_uavs_hold_first_live_missile_firing_during_zapad-2021_exercise.html)

http://mil.today/upload/resize_cache/medialibrary/d74/675_450_1d65cf8a9d606d53c3be1bd4536c9dce1/forpost2.jpg

Forpost UAV (source: http://mil.today/2019/Science42/)

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Russia is also focusing on the designing and production of loitering munition. In that regard, the best illustration could be a Zala Aero Group that currently manufactures a few types of loitering munition like “KYB-UAV”, “Zala Lancet-1” and “Zala Lancet-3”. Some of the UAVs were tested in Syria.

Unmanned aircraft vehicle ZALA Lancet 3
Loitering munition KYB-UAV

Zala Lancet-3 (left) and KYB-UAV(right) (source: https://zala-aero.com/en/production/bvs/)

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Russia’s counter-UAV experience

The Russian military is actively working to develop concepts, tactics, techniques, and procedures against UAVs. The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has invested heavily to defend its forces against the growing threat and proliferation of UAVs, The concepts primarily are based on the lessons learned deriving from own and other forces’ combat experience, and on its current EW capabilities. 

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In Syria, the Russian forces established a triple “echeloned” counter-UAV layer which proves to be effective against do-it-yourself-type drones, but that is still unproven against more sophisticated military drones currently in service.

The echeloned defence of the Khmeimim airbase is composed of three echelons. Long-range approaches are defended by a long-range air defence system – the “S-400 Triumph” and the “S-200VE Vega”. At medium ranges, the fight against an air enemy is carried out by medium-range air defence systems such as “S-300FM Fort” and “Buk-M2E”. Short-range air defence systems “Osa-AKM” and “S-125 Pechora-2M” are employed together with the “Pantsir-S1” system which is covering the main object and the most expensive “S-400 Triumph” air defence system.

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Furthermore, to protect the airbase from air and space reconnaissance, “Krasukha-4” EW systems are employed.

Watch Russian S-400 Triumph Missile System in Action, Taking Down 'Enemy'  Projectiles

S-400 Triumph (source: https://sputniknews.com/20200414/watch-russian-s-400-triumph-missile-system-in-action-taking-down-enemy-projectiles-1078945272.html)

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http://www.ausairpower.net/PVO-S/5V28-S-200V-Launcher-1S.jpg

S-200VE Vega (source: http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-S-200VE-Vega-Sites.html)

ПУ ЗРК Форт на крейсере пр.1164

S-300FM Fort (source: https://en.missilery.info/missile/fort)

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Buk M2E Air Defense Missile System | Military-Today.com

Buk-M2E (source: http://www.military-today.com/missiles/buk_m2e.htm)

File:9K33M3 Osa-AKM in VDNKh.jpg

Osa-AKM (source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:9K33M3_Osa-AKM_in_VDNKh.jpg)

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Pechora-2M S-125 SA-3 surface-to-air defense missile system technical data sheet specifications information description pictures photos images video intelligence identification intelligence Russia Russian army defence industry military technology

S-125 Pechora-2M (source: https://www.armyrecognition.com/russia_russian_missile_system_vehicle_uk/pechora-2m_s-125_sa-3_surface-to-air_defense_missile_system_technical_data_sheet_specifications.html)

https://uawmedia.uawire.org/media/Default/_Profiles/e2c975c6/ea986bf8/pantsir_s1.jpg?v=637448183430000000

Pantsir-S1 (source: https://www.uawire.org/pantsir-s1-systems-unable-to-protect-russian-base-in-syria)

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https://wbs.tacticalreport.com/storage/uploads/2021/09/Krasukha-4.jpg/r/1200/Krasukha-4.jpg

Krasukha-4 (source: https://www.tacticalreport.com/news/article/57673-saudi-arabia-russia-and-krasukha-4)

Following the conclusion of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, Russian military experts remain committed that the above-mentioned echeloned combination would have worked well against Azerbaijani drone attacks. The data indicates that some of the EW and anti-aircraft systems at that time used by Armenian forces were able to blunt certain Azeri UAV operations. Furthermore, the older Soviet and Russian-made anti-aircraft systems proved to have limited success against adversarial UAVs in Libya and Syria, as they were not structured in an echeloned way and had no EW capabilities.

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The Russian experience defending the Khmeimim base in Syria from UAV strikes has become the foundation of its military’s counter-UAV training program. Starting from 2019, all major military exercises and drills include the defence against an adversary’s massed UAV attack. The EW systems and technologies emerged as a key concept in this training. 

Typically, the Russian military uses a combination of portable and wheeled EW systems. The “Borisoglebsk” and “Zhitel” systems are often tested in such drills. 

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In ZVO complex EW
https://syria.mil.ru/images/upload/2015/MAGNIY_REB_S%5B1%5D%282%29%281%29.jpg

Borisoglebsk (source: https://syria.mil.ru/en/syria/bulletins/bulletin/more.htm?id=12073112@egNews; https://www.weaponews.com/news/4303-in-zvo-complex-ew-borisoglebsk-2.html)

File:R-330Zh Zhitel jammer.jpg

Zhitel (source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:R-330Zh_Zhitel_jammer.jpg)

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Russian mobile EW groups can use “R-934BMV” an automated jamming station, the “Silok-01” EW system, and the “Pole-21” advanced radio suppression system to discover enemy UAVs, to interfere with their communications and suppress their control channels, rendering them useless for further operations.

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R-934BMV (source: https://eng.sozvezdie.su/catalog/r934b_vhf_air_communication_automated/)

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“Silok” is capable of guaranteeing a suppression of UAV equipment at a distance of more than 4 km from its location.

Russia newest Silok anti UAV systems first deployed to Central Military District

Silok-01 (source: https://www.armyrecognition.com/june_2018_global_defense_security_army_news_industry/russia_newest_silok_anti-uav_systems_first_deployed_to_central_military_district.html)

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The “Pole-21” electronic countermeasure system is designed to protect important infrastructure and military installations against enemy cruise missiles, smart bombs, and UAVs reliant on GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and Beidou positioning systems for navigation and guidance.

https://turkeygazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Pole-21-electronic-countermeasures-system-560x416.jpeg

Pole-21 (source: https://turkeygazette.com/armenian-commander-the-russian-pole-21-electronic-countermeasures-system-failed-against-turkish-uavs/)

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In Russia, military forces started using “Stilet”, “Stupor” and other types of portable counter-UAV rifles. 

Image

Stilet (source: https://mobile.twitter.com/RALee85/status/1386083999710339077/photo/1)

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“Stilet” is a short-range shotgun-like system that can fit in a backpack. It resembles a hybrid of a gun and an assault rifle that neutralizes the drone within line of sight via directional antennas. “Stupor” has an effective range of 650 meters, and can run 4 hours and 40 minutes. It can suppress both GPS and Wi-Fi signals.

ARMY 2017] LOKMAS "Stupor" Counter-UAV Device -The Firearm Blog

Stupor (source: https://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2017/08/31/army-2017-lokmas-stupor-counter-uav-device/)

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Another example of a working short-range counter-UAV system is called the REX. It can jam GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, China’s Beidou, and Europe’s Galileo geospatial signals within a 4.9 km radius disabling drone navigation.

REX-1 Antidrone gun
REX-2 Antidrone gun

REX-1 (left) and REX-2 (right) (source: https://zala-aero.com/en/production/means-of-ew/rex-1/; https://zala-aero.com/en/production/means-of-ew/rex-2/)

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Electromagnetic gun “Pischal” is one of the lightest samples on the market – its weight is about 3.5 kg. UAV control and navigation channels suppression range – 2 km.

https://i0.wp.com/cybershafarat.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/IMG_20210221_185239_963.jpg?fit=1280%2C853&ssl=1

Pischal (source: https://cybershafarat.com/2021/02/22/electromagnetic-gun-pischal/)

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The “Kupol-PRO” system is designed to suppress the UAV navigation, control and data link channels to interfere with drone functioning in the site airspace. It is complete with isotropic radiation omnidirectional anti-drone antenna feeders (making a drone-proof ‘dome’).

Kupol-PRO portable anti-drone system

Kupol-PRO (source: https://www.ao-avtomatika.ru/en/catalog/products/kupol-pro-portable-anti-drone-system/)

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Furthermore, Russia’s arms exporting company Rosoboronexport unveiled its new concept of a four-tier counter-UAV defence system, which comprises a wide range of solutions ranging from tactical EW devices to man-portable anti-drone guns. The first level of the above-mentioned anti-drone system includes the “Repellent” counter-UAV device that can detect and spoof UAVs at a distance of no less than 30 km. The “Repellent” detects both the drone and its ground control station, jamming every control and navigation datalink.

Anti-Drone System - "REPELLENT" COMPLEX for Russian Army - YouTube

Repellent (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilta8zMgKUQ)

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The second layer comprises the “Sapsan-Bekas” mobile counter-UAV system and “Kupol-PRO” and “Rubezh-Avtomatika” devices. The “Sapsan-Bekas” is fitted with both active and passive UAV detection units, allowing the system to detect even drones with low radio emission. The complex can conduct all-around or sector scanning. “Sapsan-Bekas” is capable of countering UAVs both in manual and automatic modes in a wide frequency range, at a distance of no less than 20 km, using active radar subsystems or electronic intelligence devices. The system is also composed of a TV camera and a cooled thermal imager, which can detect a drone at a distance of up to 8 km. Depending on its configuration, the “Sapsan-Bekas” can jam UAVs’ navigation and control channels at a distance of up to 30 km.

Rostec Reveals Mobile Anti-Drone System Sapsan-Bekas
TUS_5461.jpg

Sapsan-Bekas (source: https://rostec.ru/en/news/rostec-reveals-mobile-anti-drone-system-sapsan-bekas/)

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Both “Kupol-PRO” and “Rubezh-Avtomatika” counter-UAV systems establish a radio-electronic ‘dome’ with a radius of no less than 3 km, which provides protection against single and swarm multidirectional drone attacks. 

The “Luch” portable counter-UAV system can detect UAV and jam it in a designated area at a distance of no less than 6 km.

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Luch system (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=twaKM_CoX8k)

Author. Donatas Palavenis, Junior researcher in the Baltic Institute of Advanced Technology (BPTI).

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