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Wasted money: what kind of weapon does Russia need against UAVs?

This post was published in Gazeta by Michail Hodarenok. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – Russian enterprises have begun developing the latest long-range radar surveillance complex based on a helicopter-type unmanned aerial vehicle, according some media. However, this “new weapon to combat enemy drones” can lead to a senseless waste of budgetary funds. Mikhail Khodarenok, the military observer of Gazeta.Ru, has dealt with the details of such a development.

Read more: Top 5 best combat drones [UAVs] in the world

Since November, Russia has been developing an uncrewed helicopter for a long-range radar patrol. The aircraft will track small and low-speed enemy drones at low and extremely low altitudes and guide them with anti-aircraft missile systems of military air defense, according to “sources and interlocutors” RIA Novosti.

They also note that the work on the complex was initiated based on an analysis of the experience of recent local conflicts, which shows the increased role of attack drones. The development is allegedly carried out based on the existing reserve so that the complex will be created as soon as possible. Simultaneously, the sources do not name either the enterprise-developer of the crewless helicopter of the long-range radar patrol or the platform on which the hypothetical radar station will be located; moreover, there is no talk of any tactical and technical characteristics.

Meanwhile, there is only one helicopter-type UAV developer in Russia – the Radar MMS company. This company’s device is the only UAV of this scheme that has successfully passed tests with various loads in a vertical wind tunnel at TsAGI.N.E. Zhukovsky. Helicopter-type UAVs developed by Radar MMS intended for search and rescue operations of the Russian Emergencies Ministry. They can lift payloads from 10 to 150 kg. Radars, locates on the UAV “Radar MMS,” have only sector mode, low power (for example, 64 W), and weighing only a few kg. However, it is rather difficult to imagine that radar with similar parameters will perform the role of a target designation locator for fire weapons.

I must say that the development of radar patrol helicopters [in a manageable version] in the USSR / Russia has been going on for a long time. For example, based on the Ka-31. But this complex did not receive wide distribution in the domestic Navy. Even on a helicopter of such a carrying capacity, it isn’t easy to ensure the radar’s operation with the required characteristics, particularly the necessary power.

Moreover, this task seems to be impossible on a helicopter-type UAV of a relatively small size. Neither the antenna device of the required geometric dimensions can be lifted into the air (and without it, it is impossible to ensure the detection of air objects with the required resolution), nor the set of equipment [transmitting and receiving devices, etc.], nor the necessary power supplies.

Besides, for the issuance of target designations, the manufacturer must equip a helicopter-type UAV with radar signal processing and high-capacity communication. The helicopter is always moving, which makes unique demands on the interface devices [particularly on the constant recalculation of coordinates]. Domestic development enterprises have already begun to solve this problem more than once. In particular, they tried to place the locator on a Ka-52 helicopter. They spent a lot of money and time, but the radar characteristics were so unsatisfactory that attempts to create a helicopter for a radar patrol, in this case, died down on their own.

As for the latest innovations in this area – the crewless helicopter of the long-range radar patrol will track small and low-speed enemy drones. After that, the aircraft will aim the targets at anti-aircraft missile systems of the military air defense. Even in these phrases, the lack of much-needed professionalism is alarming. In particular, a developer would never say “tracking.” In the best case, he would say – “detection against the background of the underlying surface.” I would never have formed a representative of the industry and such a phrase – “aiming at them anti-aircraft missile systems of military air defense.” In this case, he would have expressed himself as follows – “issuance of non-search target designation to fire weapons.”

And finally, why only the “SAM of the military air defense”? And the anti-aircraft missile forces of the Aerospace Forces no longer need target designation for UAVs? And why only air defense systems and air defense systems? And what about fighter aircraft? And what about combat helicopters? And what about small-caliber anti-aircraft artillery systems? They already do not need a control center? Or how to understand “sources” in this case?

Thus, creating an unmanned helicopter for a long-range radar patrol at the current technology level looks like a somewhat utopian task. In this case, it is impossible to provide radar characteristics comparable to those of a ground-based station. And today, we can say how it will end. At first, the management will be disoriented and, perhaps, even carried away by these ideas, a lot of budget money has been allocated, the solution of this task will not take “the shortest time”, but the result will be one – “sorry, it didn’t work out”.

By the way, our strategic partners somehow did not reach such ideas either. They also give an account of the futility of work in this direction. The question arises – what to do in this case? And there is no need to invent anything and engage in some completely exotic developments, without any measure spending public funds.

To effectively combat enemy unmanned aerial vehicles, a radar reconnaissance system built on classical principles is needed. The engineers should base the design on inexpensive mobile radar stations of a combat mode, capable of issuing non-search target designation to all necessary fire weapons. A high-performance automated system for processing radar information should function without human operator intervention. The most important thing is that UAV should carry out the issuance of target designation for fire weapons in real-time; that is, the information lag time should zero.

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