The Russian industry has mastered the production of Orion reconnaissance and strike UAVs for our army and is now preparing to fulfill orders from third countries. In the near future, the production of such equipment may begin under export contracts - the first applications of this kind have already been received. In the distant future, Orion in two main modifications is quite capable of winning a certain share of the world market for unmanned aerial vehicles.
The fundamental possibility of export was announced almost immediately after the official presentation of Orion. At the same time, for a long time it was only a reconnaissance modification that did not have all the functions of a "full-fledged" unmanned complex. For example, in the catalog on the Rosoboronexport website, the Orion-E product is still presented in a reconnaissance version, and the shock capabilities are not even mentioned.
It was reported about interest in such technology from some foreign countries. However, orders for reconnaissance drones were not reported. Probably, no applications for such equipment were received at all. With all its advantages, the reconnaissance "Orion-E" is inferior in general potential and capabilities to some foreign models.
On June 28, 2021, RIA Novosti announced new plans in the field of UAVs. An agency source in the defense industry said that Rosoboronexport and the Kronstadt company are launching a campaign to promote the Orion-E reconnaissance and strike modification. The first steps have already been taken in this direction.
Proposals have been sent out to several foreign armies interested in receiving heavy attack UAVs. In addition, applications have been received from other countries that also want to receive similar equipment. It is not specified which states wished to receive Orion-E and when the actual contracts are expected to appear.
The source indicated that the supply of equipment may begin at the end of this year or early next year. The launch of production for export is associated with the emergence of a new production site. Serial UAVs for the Russian army and foreign customers will be produced at the plant in Dubna, the construction of which will be completed in the fall.
Already on July 2, RIA Novosti again raised the topic of production and export of Orion. This time, an industry source clarified some of the plans. So, the serial plant "Kronstadt" will start work in November. He will begin assembling drones for export in the next 2022. The plant will be able to assemble several dozen Orions annually, and some of this equipment will be made for foreign buyers. The number and share of export products will depend on the loading of the enterprise with orders from our Ministry of Defense.
Rosoboronexport and Kronstadt have not yet commented on this news. At the same time, the export organization indicates that Orion-E possesses high tactical and technical characteristics, which attracts the attention of potential buyers and provides a large export potential.
The unmanned aerial complex "Orion-E" in reconnaissance and strike performance has a number of important features that can positively affect its export prospects. We are talking about both technical characteristics and operational capabilities or tactical capabilities.
The Orion UAV belongs to the class of medium-altitude vehicles with a long flight duration (MALE). UAVs of this category have long been used in the armies of leading countries and have shown their ability to solve a wide range of tasks. Any new sample of the MALE class attracts the attention of the armies, and often this leads to the appearance of supply contracts. Similar processes should be expected in the case of the Russian Orion.
Orion is built according to a normal aerodynamic configuration with a V-shaped tail; the length of the product reaches 8 m, the span of a straight narrow wing is 16.3 m. The maximum take-off weight is 1 ton. The payload is up to 200 kg. The UAV is capable of speeds up to 200 km / h and stay in the air for up to a day. The operating range without the use of repeaters reaches 250 km from the control point.
Thus, in terms of its main technical and flight characteristics, Orion is at least not inferior to modern foreign UAVs of its class. At the same time, there is a margin for subsequent upgrades with the possibility of increasing the main parameters, which in one way or another affect the overall performance.
For Orion-E, a number of payload options are offered. In the initial reconnaissance version, it can carry optical (day and night) and radio-technical reconnaissance means. Obviously, this direction will develop - and customers will be offered new equipment samples that increase performance or provide new opportunities.
According to the latest news, export UAVs will be able to carry weapons. A whole family of guided missiles and small-caliber bombs is being developed specifically for new domestic drones. Products weighing no more than 50 kg must ensure the defeat of a wide range of ground targets with high accuracy. At the same time, Orion will be able to take on board a significant amount of such weapons.
Over the past few years, Orion has been tested, confirmed the design characteristics and demonstrated all its capabilities. The checks took place both in the conditions of airfields and training grounds, and as part of a full-fledged military operation. In the recent past, several Orions worked in Syria, where they carried out reconnaissance and attacked enemy targets.
Based on the results of all inspections, the Orion UAV as part of the Pacer complex was recommended for service. Serial production of such equipment has also been ordered. The first complex has already been transferred to the Russian army, and the delivery of seven more is planned for this year. In the future, production is expected to continue at a high rate, which will be facilitated by the launch of a new plant.
Thus, the unmanned complex of a new type has passed the necessary checks, and the developing country is adopting it. Such processes have a positive effect on the reputation of new developments and contribute to the growth of interest from foreign customers. It is possible that the existing applications for Orion-E began to arrive precisely after the news about the Syrian tests and the order for the series.
Struggle for the market
With all its advantages, Orion-E is unlikely to be able to quickly become the subject of a large number of contracts and win a significant part of the international market. In the MALE niche, there are now many unmanned systems developed by different countries, and the Russian model will face the most serious competition. However, the situation does not look hopeless - the export Orion has some advantages even over the recognized market leaders.
According to the results of recent conflicts, the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 became the most famous and advertised reconnaissance and strike UAV. According to open data, this device surpasses the Russian Orion in maximum speed (220 km / h versus 200 km / h) and flight duration (up to 27 hours versus 24 hours). At the same time, the 650-kg Bayraktar carries only 150 kg of weapons - light missiles and specially developed bombs.
Orion can also be compared to the Chinese Wing Loong drone, which also enjoys a certain popularity in the market. This vehicle is heavier than the Russian one (maximum takeoff weight 1100 kg), but has the same payload of 200 kg. The maximum speed is declared at the level of 270-280 km / h, but the flight duration does not exceed 20 hours.
The Orion reconnaissance and strike UAV has been successfully brought to mass production and is being supplied to our armed forces. In a few months, a new plant will be launched, which will increase the pace of production. In addition, there will be a reserve of capacities to fulfill export contracts.
According to the latest reports, there are already several applications that may soon turn into real orders. At the same time, now we are talking not only about reconnaissance, but also about shock modification. It has not yet been announced when the first contracts for the export of Orion-E will appear, which countries will order such equipment and in what quantity. However, the very possibility of obtaining foreign orders is no longer in doubt.