Orion UAV: Development History, Design, Performance, and Specifications | Orion UAV is a Russian Unmanned Combat Vehicle developed by the Kronshtadt Group.
Orion UAV: Development History, Design, Performance, and Specifications
MilitaryEzyInfo.com – One of the consequences of the collapse of the USSR and the “wild nineties” was the lagging of the Russian military-industrial complex in the extremely important area of development and mass production of unmanned aerial vehicles.
At first, this problem had to be solved by purchasing reconnaissance drones from Israel. The work on its own UAVs began relatively recently, and it is not progressing as smoothly as one would like.
In particular, there are still no attack drones in service with the Russian army. This situation may change only in 2021 when the Orion UAVs that are in pilot operation today will be delivered to the troops.
Tests of these drones have largely been completed, and several machines have had their “baptism of fire” in Syria, including with the use of weapons against real targets.
Orion UAV: Development History
In the late 2000s, the Russian Defense Ministry’s interest in military drones grew noticeably. The reason for this was the success of Israeli and U.S. UAVs, as well as the experience gained during the brief military conflict in Georgia. Initially, the main focus was on reconnaissance drones. It should be noted that the Russian army already had several examples of such vehicles in service (the Pchela, the Tipchak, and the old Tu-143), but their capabilities were fairly limited.
The exact date when work on the Orion UAV project began remains unknown. In 2011, the Defense Ministry signed a contract to develop this drone with the St. Petersburg-based company Tranzas, and the design documentation originally assigned the Inokhodets code to the drone.
Nevertheless, there is a Russian government decree from April 9, 2010, which says that the Orion UAV has successfully deployed an MF-2 multifunction airborne radar system.
From the very beginning, the most problematic element of the future Orion UAV was its propulsion system. In the USSR, almost no attention was paid to the development of small piston aircraft engines, and in Russia, these engines were not used at all. Therefore, the Ministry of Defense thought that the best way out would be to copy any foreign engine and its subsequent adaptation. At first glance, this solution looks quite justified, but new difficulties arose in its implementation.
The thing is that the imported engine with a capacity of one hundred horsepower, taken as a reference sample, was equipped with electronics that did not make it possible to operate it in the modes necessary for the full-fledged operation of the UAV. The control system blocked the inclusion of turbocharging mode, and when forced to remove this restriction began to burn out the pistons.
As a result, the first prototypes of the Orion UAV were equipped with a “non-boosted” version of the engine, which, in addition, had no propeller pitch adjustment mechanism.
Soon they managed to make a new engine control system, but after it had been installed, they encountered another problem – the Russian electronics uses the current of 27 volts, and the motor itself and its individual mechanisms were designed for 12 volts.
Due to the lack of instrumentation, many of the defects in the power plant control unit could not be accurately diagnosed and eliminated for a long time. Appropriate instrumentation was not received until 2018, and as of May 2020, the ITLAN Engineering Center, which was directly involved with the UAV engine, still did not have a number of the components needed to correct the deficiencies identified. In addition, the software for the electronic control unit had still not been finalized.
In the spring of 2020, the first three Orion UAVs entered service with the Russian Army. The act of acceptance of these machines was signed by representatives of the Ministry of Defense. All three drones were equipped with APD-115 engines, which had been shipped back in 2019 – that is, with defects that had not yet been corrected and had not passed the full cycle of state tests. These engines were “fine-tuned” literally by hand, but such an approach is not suitable for large-scale production.
Orion UAV Design
According to Kronshtadt, the creator of Orion, the drone is made almost entirely of Russian-made carbon fiber. The use of this material makes it possible to significantly reduce the weight of the drone and its visibility on radar screens.
The Orion UAV is built according to a normal aerodynamic scheme. A straight wing of great elongation is approximately in the middle of an elongated narrow fuselage with an asymmetrical cross-section. The tail consists of two tilted keels-stabilizers, forming an approximation of the letter V.
Immediately behind the plumage is placed pushing a two-bladed variable pitch controllable propeller AB-115. It is controlled by means of an electric drive. Regulation of the propeller pitch is carried out by onboard electronics.
The “Orion” UAV has three-pillar landing gear with a front turning strut. In addition, there is a retractable tail stub designed to protect the propeller from contact with the runway surface.
The first prototypes of Orion had an Austrian Rotax 914 engine with a capacity of 115 horsepowers. The same engine was used in the US-made MQ-1 Predator reconnaissance drones. The standard engine of the Russian drone should become APD-115T (original designation – APD-110/120), developed at the “ITLAN Engineering Center” (Rybinsk) based on the same “Rotax”. The problems that arose during its creation are described above.
Orion UAV: Onboard equipment
Onboard equipment Orion UAV has a very high level of automated control. In particular, during takeoff and landing in the vast majority of cases, the operator’s intervention is not required, although such a possibility is still preserved. In general, the equipment that ensures the flight of the UAV consists of the following elements:
- avigation system. The current location of the aircraft is determined through the use of accelerometers and gyroscopic devices, as well as using the data obtained through the satellite antenna module GPS / GLONASS.
- Equipment for communication with the ground control station.
- Equipment diagnostics and control system
- Automatic control system.
When landing approach “Orion” is able to use not only the satellite navigation module but also a special dual-band radar. In the presence of intense interference, a laser system can be used instead. In Syria, according to a number of testimonies, all three variants of the automatic landing were successfully tested.
Since the Orion began to be seen not only as a reconnaissance drone but also as a strike drone around 2015, a combat information and control system (CICS) was added onboard to ensure the use of precision weapons.
Orion UAV: Payload options
To perform reconnaissance and terrain observation the following equipment is installed onboard the Orion UAV:
- Overview and targeting the optoelectronic system. It is mounted on a gyrostabilized platform located in the nose inner compartment of the fuselage. The system includes two thermal imaging cameras, a wide-angle camera, and a laser rangefinder.
- Survey radar station. Installed in the central inner compartment of the fuselage and covered from below by a radio transparent hood.
- High-resolution aerial photography system. Installed instead of the observation radar and consists of a set of digital photo and video cameras placed on a gyrostabilized platform.
- A system for collecting information about enemy air defense radars. Receives radio waves and locates their sources. Installed in the central inner compartment of the fuselage.
- Electronic warfare equipment.
Orion UAV Weapons
To destroy ground targets, Orion can use guided missiles, free-fall and guided bombs. They are placed on three hanger points, two of which are under the wing of the drone and another (central) one under its fuselage.
The following weapons can be used:
- Х-50. Small-sized aviation missile with a high-explosive warhead weighing from 10 to 20 kg. First shown at the “Army-2020” forum. Characteristics are not yet known.
- UPAB-50. Guided decoy air bomb. Its warhead weighing 37 kg is “borrowed” from the shells of the well-known multiple launch rocket system “Grad”.
- KAB-50. A guided aerial bomb. The warhead is the same as that of the KAB-50.
- FAB-50. Free-falling aerial bomb. The warhead is the same as that of the planning bomb.
Tactics and Technical Specifications
“Orion” could be classified as a medium-altitude UAV with a long flight time. Its main characteristics are as follows:
- UAV length: 8 м
- Height: 3.2 m
- Wingspan: 16.3 m
- Takeoff weight with full payload: 1 ton
- Payload mass: up to 200 kg
- Combat radius: 250 km
- Maximum flight time: 24 hours (other data: 27 hours)
- Operational ceiling: 7,500 m
- Cruising speed: 120 to 200 km/h (various data)
If one Orion is used as a repeater, the combat radius of other UAVs increases to 300 km. No information about the range limit is available yet.
Comparison Orion with other UAVs
Immediately after the first three Orion UAVs were announced in the press, there were articles stating that the drone was far behind the American MQ-9 Reaper.
Meanwhile, such a comparison is clearly inappropriate – the machine, created in the United States, has a much larger size and weight. That is why “Reaper” is equipped with more powerful engines and can fly at an altitude of up to 15,000 meters, which is twice as high as “Orion”.
The closest to the new Russian drone is the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 UAV. It is slightly (by 50 kg) inferior to the “Orion” in terms of payload weight, having somewhat smaller geometric dimensions. The Russian UAV is noticeably superior to the “Bayraktar” only in a combat radius – 250 km vs. 150 km.
The Israeli Heron and Hermes 900 drones do not differ much from the Orion in their takeoff weight. At the same time, the Hermes is capable of taking up to 300 kilograms of payload on board, while the Heron – up to 250. In addition, these drones are capable of staying in the air much longer than the Russian machine. In particular, the maximum flight time of the Hermes 900 is 46 hours. The operating ceiling of both Israeli drones exceeds 9,000 meters, which also gives them some advantage.
Prospects for Orion Operation
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Orion UAV proved to be quite reliable and effective during its pilot operation in Syria. At first, it was used only for reconnaissance purposes, but in 2019, the drone carried out its first strike against a ground target in the northern Hama province near the city of Zaka. The Defense Ministry did not disclose any details, limiting itself to reporting that the target was hit.
It has a civilian application. Unarmed Orions will be used for geodetic surveys and search of forest fires. Meanwhile, Kronshtadt has already announced the completion of work on the Orion-2, with a takeoff weight of at least five tons, which is already comparable to the American Reaper. Some other strike drones should be operational soon. Therefore, it is possible that the age of the original Orion will not last long.
The new UAV also has some export potential. However, competition with Turkish and Israeli models promises to be extremely tough.