Russian Ministry of Defence and manufacturing company Kronshtadt have signed a deal to start delivery of Russia’s first medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone, an upgraded variant of “Orion”, capable of carrying air-to-ground munitions.
According to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, the deal was announced by Kronshtadt chief engineer Nikolai Dolzhenkov. The delivery of the first heavy “Orion” drone for the Air Force is scheduled before the end of 2020.
Earlier, a number of Russian high-level military officials claimed that first deliveries of Russian MALEs were expected in 2021. A drone named “Altius”, manufactured by a conglomerate of different companies, was named as the most likely candidate for that position, owing to it being widely celebrated in Russian media.
In terms of size, weight and endurance, a standard version of “Orion” is comparable to MQ-1 Predator, operated by various NATO and other air forces since 1995. Nevertheless, Russian Air Force is expected to operate an updated version, capable of carrying up to one ton of payload. Other characteristics of the new aircraft, such as size and endurance, are not yet announced.
Russian Air Force have already used prototypes of the original light-weight “Orion” for reconnaissance in Syria in 2018. In August 2019, Russian media announced that Kronshtadt started mass-producing the drone, although there were no plans to upgrade it at the time.