Russia’s Altair heavy strike unmanned aerial vehicle program appears to be in jeopardy, according to the regional media outlet “Business Online.”
“We are planning the first flight around May-June,” Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko reported in December when the heavy UAV project was taken away from the Experimental Design Bureau Simonov and transferred to the Kazan division of the Ural Civil Aviation Plant.
As it turned out, they didn’t even get down to business. Alexander Gomzin, even being under investigation, refuses to share information regarding the development.
Anonymous sources didn’t exclude that there was no database, and it was unprofitable for the military officers in charge of the project to admit it.
It appears that the now 8-year-long project would be further delayed. In second half of 2018 the project was taken away from the Experimental Design Bureau Simonov and given to Ural Civil Aviation Plant (UZGA) in Kazan, which is controlled by Viktor Grigoriev, owner of several military-industrial enterprises and who has a close relationship with Rostec.
Following his visit to the capital of the Republic of Tajikistan, Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko said: “There is a slight delay in the Altius project (the drone itself is called Altair) But we will now catch up, so the work will definitely be completed. The first flight is planned for approximately May-June in the updated configuration.”
The updated configuration actually meant a lighter weight glider, new engines and a completed load. But the Business Online anonymous sources claimed that this would not only not take place in May or June, but not in 2019 at all.
Initially, the R&D project Altiums-M began in 2011, which then transformed into the Altius O project in 2014 was initially stopped by the Russian Ministry of Defense, because of systematically extending deadlines and embezzling of state funds.
According to the anonymous source, a contract was signed with UZGA for a new research project, which was planned to be completed in November 2019. Such a short period was due to the fact that the Design Bureau would give the new developer their entire scientific and technical database – scientific, technical, design, technological, operational, software, regulatory documentation, stands and prototypes of a complex with several UAVs.
However, it was not there. According to the source, despite numerous notifications from the military, the Experimental Design Bureau leadership transferred only materials of secondary value, and, for example, the main equipment and design documentation for the UAV samples that were produced remain with Simonov.
The leading Russian expert in the field of unmanned systems Denis Fedutinov also expressed doubts about the competencies of UZGA in an interview with BUSINESS Online
“The history of the Altair of the Simonov Experimental Design Bureau has already had so many fascinating details over the past year that, in principle, it is not surprising that its continuation is no less interesting,” he noted above all. “Plans that were previously called representative by state structures to bring the project to a new developer seemed almost unrealistic from the very beginning. I do not exclude the possibility that very attractive terms for the customer were announced by the Ural Civil Aviation Plant in order to win over this protracted project from the Experimental Design Bureau. At the same time, it is not quite clear if the Ministry of Defense’s expectations were based on the reality of these deadlines, because the UZGA portfolio has not yet implemented a single UAV project of its own.”
The article also speculates that there is a possibility that Aleksandr Gomzin, who was in charge of the project and is under investigation wants to simply take his revenge.
“I think Gomzin has nothing to lose – the criminal case against him continues, the fact remains: the money was withdrawn, the team that was engaged in Altius (almost 100 people), went to the Ural Civil Aviation Plant, so he would have his revenge if UZGA doesn’t succeed in the project,” the anonymous source claimed.
The Altair program has been long plagued by issues. Originally launched in 2011, there was little publicly available information.
It was supposed to reach up to 1000 kph (621 mph) and cover the same type of missions as the General Atomics Avenger. According to Vedomosti, more than 3 billion rubles (about $45 million) were invested into the program by October 2018.
Subsequently, the program was reported as cancelled back then.
In 2017, while the unmanned aircraft was already being tested in flight, OKB Simonov allegedly suffered from resource deficit, becoming unable to continue the development. Tatarstan authorities asked the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade for an additional 2 billion rubles to develop a civil arctic version of the UAV.
In April 2018, the head of OKB Simonov, Alexander Gomzin, was arrested and charged with misappropriation of state funds. He was suspected of embezzling 900 million rubles that were allocated to the project. He was released in June of the same year. The charges were reportedly not dropped and it is unclear why he was, in fact, released.
In September a video allegedly showed a prototype of the Altair.
But it would appear that as of May 2019, the Altair appears to be in limbo.
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