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The Russian MoD has released a video of the ORION UAV conducting several strikes in Syria, including a blow against an ammunition depot during a night flight.

This is a tough environment with lower clouds where the UAV has used a thermal imager and a night vision camera for aiming. The UAV featuring in the report was marked with 38 stars on its airframe, denoting the number of missions concluded. This included 17 combat and 20 reconnaissance flights, as well as one mission not being specified.

ORION is the first Russian UAV locally designed and produced by the Moscow-based Kronshtadt company. According to open sources, the UAV is able to fly for up to 24 hours and has a maximum take-off weight is 1000 kg including a 200 kg payload. ORION is intended for aerial reconnaissance of the terrain, determining the coordinates of ground and surface objects, as well as for topographic survey of the area. In the strike version, the UAV can carry up to four air-to-ground missiles. The ORION’s operational sealing is up to 5 km with a flight range of 120 km. It can be controlled from a mobile operator station which is capable to run up to 4 UAVs simultaneously.

The UAV has an export version termed ORION-E, which has been included in the product catalogue of Rosoboronexport. The vehicle mock-up has been displayed at the Army 2020 International Forum and Rosoboronexport exposition at IDEX 2021 in Abu Dhabi.

Other New Russian UAV Developments

The interest of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) may also extend to other developments from the Moscow-based Kronshtadt company.

During the ARMY 2020 International Forum Kronshtadt presented its new UAV of heavy class being titled GROM (THUNDER). According to official data, GROM will have a take-off weight of 7 tons and be capable of delivering a 1.3 ton payload at a distance up to 800 km. It can reportedly employ a variety of weapons including guided missiles as well as the KAB-250 and KAB-500 guided aerial bombs. The weaponry can be allocated at four suspension points – two under the wing consoles and two inside the UAV’s airframe.

During ARMY 2020, Nikolai Dolzhenkov, Kronstadt general designer, claimed the GROM would be employed to support the Su-35 and Su-57 fighters to preserve the manned aircraft and their pilots. The drones would be used to neutralise enemy air defence during joint missions teamed with conventional aircraft.

According to the recent company spokesman statement, which was quoted by the national information agencies, GROM will be able to control a swarm of 10 light strike drones being launched from another aircraft, presumably a non-UAV. Those small drones are being designed by Kronshtadt as well and are called MOLNIYA (LIGHTNING).

The UAV is reported to have a length of 1.5 m and a wingspan of up to 1.2m while the speed of the device is declared to be around of 600 – 700 km/h. The UAV payload is said to range from five to seven kg. It is also planned to use the MOLNIYA UAVs as high-precision guided munitions or reconnaissance target designators, according to the company spokesman. The exact timing of the system employment within the VKS hasn’t been specified.

GROM UAV (Image: Igor Laskin)