Russian Ministry of Defense recently shared a video on YouTube of the new Altair/Altius unmanned aerial spy vehicle. It is a twin drone engine and has been undergoing development for a couple of years and experienced cost overruns while remaining behind schedule as well. It has been described as a spy plane but seems to possess the ability to carry weapons as well.
Despite being famous as a military giant, Russia has been behind the US in terms of the development of unmanned aerial vehicles. Up until recently, Russia didn’t have any equivalent to American Reaper or Predator drones, medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) drones that can loiter for a day or more over the intended target, conducting surveillance, and finally taking the target out using precision-guided weapons.
The latest Altair/Altius-U drone is meant to fill this hole. The Altair, as per the Russian state media, weighs in at six tons and gets its power from two turboprop engines. As per the open-source analysis of satellite images, the early prototypes of the Altair had lengths of 11 meters, which is the same as that of MQ-9 Reaper. However, these prototypes of Altair had a wingspan of 28 meters, thus making it quite bigger as opposed to the American counterpart.
As per TASS, the drone flew for a total of 32 minutes at altitudes of up to 2,600 feet and can even fly for up to 24 hours without a break. The drone doesn’t seem to have any obvious sensor package – think of the downward-facing electro-optical eye that intended for stalking targets on the ground. The Altair was publicized as a strike drone originally, then a reconnaissance-strike drone, and now Russia has settled for intelligence/reconnaissance/surveillance drone. It is considered unorthodox for a MALE drone to be unarmed.
What is clearly shown in the video are two hardpoints on the wings of Altair that are intended for carrying external stores. This might imply that Altair would be carrying sensor pods, especially synthetic aperture radar that is capable of ‘seeing’ even through bad weather for the sake of constructing an image of the object on the ground. The hardpoints could also be used for arming Altair. Despite all the ups and downs, the drone is finally here, and we’ll find out soon enough just how capable the Altair drone is as opposed to its competition.