Enlarged Derivative of Orion UAV Under Development

 - September 10, 2019, 1:58 AM
The Orion MALE UAV was exhibited in the static display at this year’s MAKS show, behind which was a full-scale mockup of the larger HALE design. (photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

St. Petersburg-based Kronstadt (KT) has unveiled a full-size mock-up of its “multipurpose high-capacity unmanned aerial vehicle,” a 5-tonne (11,000-pound) drone with a wingspan of 30 meters (98.42 feet). It was exhibited in the MAKS 2019 static line alongside the Orion 1-tonne (2,200-pound) UAV, which the manufacturer describes as “Russia’s first operational drone of the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) class.” The two bear some outward resemblance, including a single-engine layout with a high-aspect wing made of composite materials, and a rear-mounted pusher propeller.

Development of an enlarged Orion was announced publicly at the airshow at Zhukovskiy two years ago. At that time it was referred to as the “Orion-2” in the high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) class. KT officials said the mockup will be subjected to various tests shortly after the MAKS show ended. A first flight is promised in 2023.

According to the company, the Orion-2 is intended for aerial patrol of Russia’s large national territories, including the exclusive economic zones in Arctic and Pacific waters. Additionally, it can perform “express cargo delivery” to runways longer than 1,800 meters (about 6,000 feet).

When cruising at an altitude up to 12,000 m (39,400 feet) at a speed of 295 km/h (160 knots), the drone can carry a 1-tonne payload over 10,000 km (5,400 nm) or loiter for more than 40 hours. Development is being carried out as an industrial initiative, with a hope of attracting interest from Russian government bodies.

KT general director Sergei Bogatikov told journalists during MAKS that the Orion’s baseline reconnaissance version has entered series production. An initial batch of drones is being readied for shipment to the Russian defense ministry, and the first batch of serial production UAVs will go to the customer by the year-end. The manufacturer has made efforts to boost the annual production rate to about 30 airframes, enough to equip up to seven detachments. Depending on tasks set before a detachment, it may employ from three to six drones.

There is no information about the engine except that it develops 116 hp, enough to accelerate the drone to a speed of 120 km/h (65 knots). It is believed that operational prototypes rely on commercially available Rotax 912/914 engines uprated for better high-altitude performance. Serial examples may receive indigenous Agat/TsIAM APD-110/120 engines driving the 1.9-m (6.2-foot)-diameter Aerosila AV115 propeller.

Development of the Orion commenced in 2011 and reached flight test phase five years later. Earlier in 2019, a handful of prototypes saw action in Syria, where they were photographed by the rebels fighting around Idlib.

Initially, the customer ordered the UAV in a reconnaissance version capable of surveying large territories by both day and night, as well as providing designation for detected ground targets. When operating from a 900-meter (3,000-foot) runway with a typical payload of 60 kg (132 pounds), the Orion can loiter for 24 hours at altitudes of up to 7,500 m (24,600 feet). The UAV can be equipped with the Phazotron-NIIR MF-2 radar emitting in the X-band for mapping and target detection. Mission equipment can process the radar picture with a speed of one square km per second. Alternatively, the drone can be configured for Sigint/Comint and other duties with a maximum payload of 200 kg (441 pounds). Earlier this year, KT declared readiness to create an armed version able to carry bombs weighing 25 and 50 kg (55 and 110 pounds). There is also an exportable variant, the Orion-E.