Russia’s Armata Tanks to be Equipped with Reconnaissance Drone

A UAV called Pterodactyl will follow the war machine, attached to the vehicle like a tethered balloon. Powered via the cable, the drone will require no batteries and so can remain in the sky indefinitely.

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The armored vehicles belonging to Russia’s Armata Universal Combat Platform family are to be equipped with reconnaissance drones, which will scan the battlefield dozens of kilometers in all directions, helping to clarify the situation and to direct weapons and rockets to targets. This drone, developed by the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI), is able to stay in the air indefinitely, as it has no on-board battery, because power is supplied through the flexible tether cable from the combat vehicle itself.

Tanks "Armata" of the mechanized columns of the Central Military District's Moscow Garrison during the rehearsal of the military parade to mark the 71st Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, at the Alabino training ground, Moscow Region.

The Pterodactyl is a lightweight drone with a shell made of composite materials, which will be connected to the combat vehicle with a flexible cable. The UAV will hover within a radius of 50-100 meters [55-110 yards] around the combat vehicle and climb to a height of several dozen meters. The machine will be equipped with radar and a thermal imaging camera.

“The development work continues, but about a year from now, we will send samples for testing to the Defense Ministry,” Vitaly Polyansky, Senior Research Fellow of the Air Robotics Systems Department of the Moscow Aviation Institute, told Russian daily Izvestiya.

“At the moment, we are working on making the drone lighter and increasing its load carrying capacity, but the key element – the tethered system has already been tested in our laboratory, and has fully confirmed all assigned characteristics.”

The advantages of having strings attached

Compared with drones that are controlled by radio, the Pterodactyl can stay in the air much longer and carry more equipment on board, because it does not have to carry any batteries. Another advantage of the tethered management system is complete protection against eavesdropping.

A special feature of the Pterodactyl is that it is made using the tiltrotor scheme – the aircraft’s propellers can be rotated along with its wings. This scheme allows the advantages of an aircraft and helicopter to be combined in one machine. As a result, the drone can reach sufficiently high speeds in the air, moving together with the tank at full speed, while it is able to levitate in a small area, including directly over the hull of the vehicle.

“The idea of ​​an unmanned intelligence aircraft, managed on a flexible cable, is not new – the first time such a device was implemented was at the end of the 1960s on a West German unmanned helicopter, the Dornier Do-32K. It was managed by a cable and also received its fuel the same way,” said military expert Oleg Zheltonozhko. “Currently, a cable interface is used on the Israeli copter Hovermast, but it is not used as part of a combat vehicle.”

According to Zheltonozhko, a system where the reconnaissance drone is directly part of the combat vehicle does not yet exist.

“The use of a light UAV, equipped with a thermal imaging camera and radar, as an external monitoring system, seems a logical solution for future armored vehicles, the range of which exceeds the visual range of onboard detection equipment,” Zheltonozhko told Izvestiya.

“For example, the main weapon of the Armata can hit a target at a distance of 8 kilometers [5 miles], while the recognition of an enemy tank through the sighting channel is limited to 5 kilometers. In addition, thanks to the Pterodactyl, the tank crew can see the situation on the battlefield, while staying hidden in a shelter or behind buildings or uneven terrain.

According to Zheltonozhko, equipping armored vehicles with external surveillance systems, able to survey the area for a distance of at least 10 km, will provide the Armata with distinct advantages over any existing enemy equipment.

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