The Russian armed forces are to receive 10 FORPOST-R unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) within three years, as well as the ALTIUS-U reconnaissance strike complex, according to a 5 February announcement from the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The new UAVs have been designed and manufactured by the Ural Civil Aviation Factory and within the Russian import substitution programme, which mandates the use of domestic components and products over those supplied by foreign companies.
"In December of last year, we signed a state contract for the implementation of the ALTIUS-U to create a reconnaissance and strike complex with a long-duration flight UAV of a new generation, equipped with a complex of satellite communications, elements of artificial intelligence that can interact with manned aircraft," Deputy Defence Minister Alexey Krivoruchko said.
He added that a further 18 PORPOST-Rs would be ordered in the course of 2020. The UAVs mark an upgrade over the original FORPOST, although the original airframe is more or less the same. Its new capabilities include a range increase of 100km, a maximum altitude of 6km and a flight duration of 18 hours. It benefits from a domestically-developed engine, optronics and control system, has a maximum weight of 500 kg and so will operate separately to the smaller ORLAN-10 UAVs that are used at the tactical level.
ALTIUS is an altogether much larger beast, weighing 7t with a 2t payload. It is expected to carry a satellite communication channel and, interpreting Krivoruchko’s comments, will be responsible for coordinating artillery and precision-guided munition strikes as well as air-launched attacks. It is reportedly capable of flying for 24 hours and has an operational range of 10,000km, with a maximum altitude of 12km.
Russia has not used armed drones in any formal manner in Ukraine or Syria, although the US has in its various Middle Eastern campaigns. However, Russian UAVs do form part of the reconnaissance strike and recce-fires complexes, which Russian forces use to engage targets with artillery. Small experiments from Ukraine in 2016 have demonstrated that forces equipped with 122mm howitzers and UAVs were able to decisively engage targets with 30% of the ammunition typically spent by Russian units. Both theatres have demonstrated the utility of UAVs in engaging targets rapidly and with decisive lethality. The next generation, as represented by FORPOST-R and ALTIUS-U, may enable Russian forces to explore new uses for UAVs. It stands to reason that these new systems will lead to a new paradigm in Russian UAV doctrine, as their capabilities represent a step change from those that existed previously.