Russian Defense Contractors Are Getting Serious About Drones
Moscow is making a major investment in armed drone technology.
Russia’s defense industry is forging ahead with the construction of a massive new drone production facility.
"Works will continue on the site of the new serial-production facility and several more buildings will be upgraded on the premises of the nearby Dubna machine-building plant (part of Kronshtadt), which will jointly create a center for the production of drones. The serial-production facility will get into top gear in 2024," the press office for Russian industrial manufacturer Kronstadt told TASS, a state-run news outlet.
Described by Kronstadt as “the first aircraft enterprise built in post-Soviet Russia,” the facility, which is located in the town of Dubna near Moscow, is projected to begin operating at full capacity in 2024. "Kronshtadt invested [about $164 million] in the project of building the serial-production enterprise and upgrading 14 facilities and workshops of the Dubna machine-building plant in 2021," the company added.
Russia’s continued investments in combat drone technology come amid simmering concerns in Moscow over Ukraine’s recent procurement of the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). Additionally, Kiev is also launching a joint production venture with Ankara to acquire more. “Now we have launched their production in Ukraine. When they say that these are 'Turkish' Bayraktars, yes, we got them from Turkey, but it is important to point out that the engines for these drones are made in our country,” said Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian President’s Office. Ukraine’s Bayraktar drones conducted their first combat mission in late October 2021, destroying an artillery piece belonging to pro-Russian separatists in the contested Donbass region. That strike prompted a new wave of alarm in Moscow, with Kremlin and Donbass separatist officials seizing on the drone operation in order to accuse Kiev of violating the Minsk peace agreements.
A Sunday report by Russian state news outlet VGTRK covered the opening of the Dubno facility while heaping praise on Kronstadt’s Orion UCAV. VGTRK’s segment showed part of a live-fire exercise, depicting the Orion targeting and destroying a notional enemy drone. “Striking aerial targets is not Orion's primary purpose, it is an additional and very useful function,” the TV segment averred. “So it’s fully capable of going up against the Bayraktar?” a Russian reporter asked a military official standing beside a stationary Orion drone. “Not just the Bayraktar, but any unmanned instrument,” the official replied. The report confirmed that Kronstadt is working on a “modernized version” of the Orion, dubbed the Sirius. The Sirius’ full specifications remain unknown, but Kronstadt reportedly confirmed that the new drone will feature an expanded operational range and payload capacity.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.