Russia’s Altius-M Heavy UAV

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Written and produced by SF Team: J.Hawk, Daniel Deiss, Edwin Watson

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, have become a ubiquitous feature of contemporary warfare. Their use has proliferated to such an extent that even non-state actors boast entire fleets of drones, including ISIS and its seemingly inexhaustible fleet of quadrocopters. Nearly every national military operates a drone force of some sort, starting with lightweight, shoulder-launched battlefield UAVs and ending with the infamous Predators and Reapers or their equivalents. But relatively few countries can boast drones at the high end of that spectrum represented by the HALE, or high-altitude long endurance, family. The onset of flight testing of the Altius-M HALE UAV indicates Russia is about to join that elite group.

As the acronym itself suggests, HALE drones are meant for what essentially are high-importance intelligence gathering missions. The high altitudes at which they operate combined with long loiter times and heavy payloads mean they can provide reconnaissance capabilities second only to those of large electronic surveillance aircraft at fraction of the cost and with far fewer political ramifications. To cite but one example of their utility, NATO’s US-manufactured Global Hawk UAVs have been performing regular flights over Ukraine in order to monitor the battlefield situation in the Donbass. These missions have attracted far less international attentions than had these missions were flown by multirole fighters fitted with reconnaissance pods or heavy electronic surveillance aircraft. Sending NATO aircraft on what would be a de-facto combat mission over a war zone would have been universally perceived as a profound and provocative political statement, while using Global Hawks for the same purpose had no political repercussions. One can even envision HALE drones being sent on intelligence gathering “kamikaze” missions into other countries’ airspace, with the aim of gathering and transmitting as much information as possible before being shot down. While doing that would be extremely provocative and costly with manned aircraft, the use of a drone has a built-in “plausible deniability” because such incursions can be chalked up to equipment malfunctions.

While Russia’s interest in HALE drones predates the wars in Ukraine and Syria, these conflicts made the need for such a vehicle felt more acutely. In order to monitor the events in both conflict zones, Russia had to resort to its small fleet of Tu-214 and Il-20 aircraft. While highly capable aircraft, they were both too much and too little for that task. Too much, because the level of sensor coverage these aircraft provide is geared to high-intensity conflicts with large opposing forces equipped with long-range air defenses. Too little, because the small number of such aircraft made it difficult and costly to establish continuous coverage. Being cheaper to procure and operate, and yet carrying powerful sensors, HALE drones are an important addition to any country’s electronic surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

The Altair and Altius-M HALE UAV is intended to become that addition, with the former being intended chiefly for civilian uses such as environmental monitoring and pipeline surveillance.  Product of the Simonov Design Bureau in Kazan, the project already exists in the form of two prototypes that are being used for testing purposes. The drone itself exhibits many features of other aircraft in the same category: long, straight wings and extensive use of composites in order to guarantee the necessary altitude and range. It is propelled by two 500hp high fuel efficiency diesel engines. These features give the 7-ton take-off weight vehicle maximum latitude of 12km and range of 10,000km at a cruising speed of 150-250km/hr, which translates into flight endurance of 48 hours. Altius-M’s two-ton payload will enable the drone to carry not only the usual range of optical and thermal sensors, but also a synthetic-aperture ground-surveilance radar with the resolution of .1 meter at the range of 35km and 1 meter at the range of 125km. Its communications equipment allows real-time data transmission at the rate of 30 Mbps to ground stations, UAV retranslators, and satellites. The total budget for the entire program is estimated at about 6 billion rubles, and the vehicles are to become operational in the early 2020s. In addition to the obvious economic and military benefits to HALE drone use, they will also establish Russia as one of the world leaders in heavy UAV development.

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  • Nigel Maund

    Russia has a lot of work to do to catch up with the USA in this technology. I also feel that playing catch with this technology must be a military priority.

    • John Whitehot

      after the iranians hacked a US RQ-170 (The stealthiest, most advanced drone “ever”) to land at one of their airbases in 2011 I wouldn’t be that eager to rely much on this kind of aircraft.

      Think about what happen if a couple dozen of armed Predators (Or similar) are hacked and start dropping Hellfires on their own troops.

      • Orcbuu

        I think Hacking is much cheaper then building it yourself.

      • Solomon Krupacek

        it does not help.

        in yugoslavia shot down f-117. the parts in few days were in russia and china. after cca 20 years. were not able to produce stealth airplane. chinesi is still 4,5 generation, the russian is in wish.

        • John Whitehot

          you miss the point.

          If Iran’s able to hack a RQ-170, there’s no safety for any drone anywhere.

          in regards to 5th gen planes, you’re wrong as usual.
          1- F-117 is not a 5th gen plane
          2- PAK-FA, J-20 and J-31 are all 5th gen planes.
          3- The F-35 is 4.5 gen plane as it lacks “Supercruising” and “Supermaneuvering”.

          That said:

          It’s very likely that “5th gen” is a marketing stunt for Lockheed Martin to rob entire countries and keep a constant bleed of capitals towards the USA.
          Because in the end, these planes are far from “invisible”, they were observable with 1950 VHF radar equipment and are observable with modern equipment having high resolution and good processing power.
          If you take the “Stealth” property out of a 5th gen fighter, all the other things that make it 5th gen can be attained by an upgraded 4th gen at a fraction of the cost.

          In case you did not notice, the US has completely lost its way in what should be known as “sustainability” in war.

          • Solomon Krupacek

            f-117 IS 5th generation bomber. and America has 3 subgeneration in the 5th. generation.

            no, boy, ONLY 1 battery was able to feetect, and accidentally in moment when opend the bomb door (i do not know in english) and the battery in that moment made on the radar for 10 second.

            i read long article, written by officer of that battery. you live in mythos.

          • John Whitehot

            you don’t even know what you’re talking about.

            F-117 was designed in the 70ies at a time where the current generation was the 3rd. It’s subsonic, it maneuvers like a pig, it can’t engage air targets, has got lots of accidents and even in the 80ies it had to be used at night only.

            Subgenerations ? don’t be silly now, there’s a limit to the bullshit you can write in one comment. It’s something that exists partly only in “4th gen”.

            -“no, boy, ONLY 1 battery was able to feetect, and accidentally in moment when opend the bomb door (i do not know in english) and the battery in that moment made on the radar for 10 second.

            i read long article, written by officer of that battery. you live in mythos”
            You are talking to yourself, I did not even mention the subject.
            The F-117 was NOT detected accidentally, it was ambushed after some patterns were observed and analyzed. If you “read long article” you’d know that.

          • Solomon Krupacek

            and russia until now, in 2017 has nothing, whioch is on level of 70s :DDD

            do not try to mask the fact, russia is weak in this direction. and not only russia, bur the whole world.

          • John Whitehot

            you’re being ridiculous.

            again, you fail to produce the slightest fact and rely on slogans like “Russia is weak” and “The US has three sub-generation of the fifth generation fighters”.
            That may work in some Lvov drinking shithole but not among adults who concern theirselves with analysis.

          • Linden Howell

            For the time being, the most likely encounters between Russ and NATO aircraft are going to be MiG 29 v Hornets, Eagles, Fighting Falcons Eurofighters etc. You have been obfuscated, my friend.

          • John Whitehot

            I’m not your friend.

            And frankly, having to comment on a two week old subject, only to add bullshit (Mig-29?, not likely. SU-30, SU-35, much more likely) proves i’m much less obfuscated than you.

          • Linden Howell

            There is no documentation of what actually occurred in that RQ-170 incident. Why Nerds &Wonks are so susceptible to information supplied by spooks is beyond me.

          • John Whitehot

            http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/1209/Downed-US-drone-How-Iran-caught-the-beast
            just a cursory search on google, this one has a picture of the captured drone.

        • Smrda

          Why would they chase up to a busted and outdated (moment since shot down) technology? Even America grounded and retired momentarily entire fleet.
          That was a $200bn money shot, wiped out entire fleet and research, and technology pride with a single soviet-era missile… Couldn’t get better bulls-eye ever than that!

          • Solomon Krupacek

            man, in that moment was up to date. and until now russians were not able to develpe own technology, were not able to copy.

            btw., i react on opinion of stealing technology. you can see, russian are not able to produce normal cars, no chips, no pc, mobile. the electronics is on very low level.

          • John Whitehot

            go tell that to the thousands of ragheads who’re now under the dirt.

          • Smrda

            Why would they try to copy some crappy plane that is smacked by their own 60’s era AA technology???

            I am sure the same thing would happen with f22, f35 etc, when we exclude marketing bullshit they are presented.

            5th gen? What a commercial stunt.

            That is only for american tax payers always new fairy tales, to steal from them as much money as they can for new researches, and always with some ridiculous excuses.

  • Shhh

    Cost for twin 500 hp engines about $100,000 for pair .Consider 12 cylinder opposed piston two stroke diesel design with 6 opposing pistons .A single revolution of two shafts produces 12 pulses of torque. Look at 12 cylinder version of Gemini diesel .About 1 kilowatt per kilogram or less of engine weight . Fifty liters of diesel each hour will keep the UAV with 2 ton payload flying over Allepo for 48 hours. At 36,000 feet altitude 20 kilometers outside of town only major SAM can reach it. With 2 ton payload it can drop 10-40 glide bombs from up to 20 km outside the city. The glide bombs arrive on target 30 to 180 seconds after launch.The system is energy efficiency at monitoring and delivering precision strike on target on time. Ten to forty glide bombs delivered for 2500 liters diesel fuel on single 48 hour mission by heavy UAV . A jet will spend far more in fuel to stay on standby loitering over a city than a piston engine diesel platform for glide bombs..

    • Nigel Maund

      Fascinating commentary; thanks!

    • Pave Way IV

      I love Russian engineering. Small turbine tech not quite there? Screw it – go DIESEL! Cheap, reliable, powerful, simple. Pair of engines cost less than what a 1,500 hour hot section inspection costs on the TPE331 turboshaft engine in the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper. Reapers cost around USD 17 million with a similar payload. MQ-1 Predators are much smaller – 165HP engine and under a ton payload, but still cost around USD 7 million.

      If Russia ever decides to export these, they’ll go for less than a tenth the price of a Reaper.

      • Shhh

        A twin two stroke diesel engine spinning a large propeller at 1800 RPM with long efficient wings is a long endurance stable platform for glide bombs.Mass produced costs could get cheap. Yes a cheap opposed diesel engine would be great for industry and aviation. Look at Achates engine and Gemini . The problem with new engines is making it past the difficult emissions. The West uses it “emissions policy” to prevent new engines from competing with local engine manufacturers. The SU 25 burns thousands of pounds of fuel each hour . In 48 hours hanging above a target a SU 25 could go through 20,000 liters of fuel if it could be air fueled. A twin 500 hp engine Altius might only 50-100 liters per hour ….about ten percent the cost of fuel. With Insurgency the surveillance needs to be constant with immediate response. One bomb that reaches insurgents while they are at target are better than ten bombs that reach target zone after insurgents left. So a heavy Altius with constant surveillance and glide bomb delivery is very energy efficient and effective platform for constant surveillance and immediate bomb delivery.

    • John Whitehot

      what does 12 pulses of torque mean?

      • Smrda

        Every piston gives a push to eccentric sleeve and rotating=creating a torque to an output shaft connected with propeller.

        • John Whitehot

          I know what torque is, I did not know the engine cycles are counted as pulses.

      • Helen A

        The engine is harvesting mechanical energy from a controlled explosion. Each explosion is a pulse of torque.

        • John Whitehot

          so you mean every engine cycle makes one pulse of torque? I never read about that. I reckon it’s not an absolute measure though? either you’ll have a 5000HP engine producing the same torque as a 50HP one if the number of cycles in time is the same?

          • Helen A

            It depends how far into the weeds you want to go. Torque is an average value. The point about pulses was regarding how many times it fires per revolution.

            When riding a bicycle you can use a power meter to measure the wattage you put out, but you have two pushes. Where the torque is greatest. Each down stroke provides the force to push through the bottom of stroke, and push the other leg up and over. Your feet (the crank) move in circles, but only because they are captive to the crank. You are applying force during only about 90degree of the 360 degree motion. A piston engine is like this, but a much much shorter burst (ignition is the explosion that provides the force).

            A 4 stroke engine has 4 “strokes” but only one of these has force applied. Colloquially the 4 strokes in order are suck(inhale air/fuel), squeeze(compress), bang(ignite), blow(exhale). Only the bang has any force. Everything else is inertia(and actually the squeeze stroke applies reverse torque to the crank). When you measure torque output this is the average of this cycle. A single cylinder engine has only one pulse every other revolution. As you add cylinders and play with firing order of each cylinder it changes the frequency.

            That is a simplistic but hopefully understandable explanation.

            Power is rate of work. For your example let’s say the 50hp engine and 5000hp have identical torque. Each discrete cycle of both engines is exactly the same. You just need to rev the 5000hp version 100 times as fast. ;)

          • John Whitehot

            I think I got what u mean, thanks for taking the time to explain : )

      • TS

        Harmonics of a force at a point in the engine frame.. 12 plulses mean less force needed per piston, thus no as heavy a frame needed. If the speed was to be faster then the hi bypass fanjet engine would be better. Fanjets make better weapon delivery vehicles, as they do not sit over the target I would take existing airplane designs and shrink them down (my preference would be for the flying boats).. They woulds be a lot more fun on parade day.Example, the OV-10 Bronco is a very viable attack UAV platform with little modification.. but then, you can’t cure stupid.

    • Miguel Redondo

      A two stroke diesel with opposed pistons works with both crankshafts in synchronisation , so you have the same number of explosions than in a traditional two-stroker.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junkers_Jumo_205