Skat UCAV lends evidence of emerging Russian prowess
Russia’s defense industry seems determined to make up for ground it has lost to Western rivals in the market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The most tangible evidence to date came in August at the MAKS airshow in Moscow where RSK-MiG launched its stealth Skat unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). The manufacturer displayed a full-scale mockup of the vehicle in the hangar of the MiG design bureau’s flight test and development base in the Gromov Flight Testing Institute within the show’s Zhukovsky air base site.
Company executives revealed that the Skat (Russian for skate) is designed to make airborne-guided missile strikes against stationary ground-based targets, air defense assets and mobile ground and sea targets. The UCAVs can operate independently or as part of a formation with manned aircraft.
RSK-MiG is using the Skat mockup to optimize design decisions and layout options. Engineers are also evaluating the effective radar cross section and making the most of the vehicle’s capabilities.
The UCAV has a triangle-shaped flying wing and a powerplant air intake in its nose–resembling UCAVs under development in the U.S. and Europe. It measures 33.6 feet long, 8.8 feet high and has a wingspan of 37.7 feet. Power comes from an 11,000-pound-thrust RD-5000B nonafterburning engine, which is built by Klimov from the development of its RD-93 family and is fitted with a flat nozzle.
The vehicle’s airframe will use composite materials coated with radar-absorbent compounds that will minimize the vehicle’s signature. Planned maximum takeoff weight is just over 22,000 pounds, maximum speed near the ground more than 430 knots and maximum Mach number in flight is greater than 0.8. The vehicle is expected to carry a combat load of up to 4,400 pounds, including two air-to-surface guided missiles and two guided air bombs. Its design service ceiling is 39,370 feet; its range, 2,158 nm.
The weapons systems displayed in front of the Skat at MAKS included Kh-31A and Kh-31P anti-ship and anti-radar missiles and 550- to 1,100-pound TV-guided bombs. These weapons are installed on the UCAV in an internal bay measuring 14.4 feet
by 2.1 feet by 2.5 feet. The UCAV would normally carry two air-to-surface guided missiles and a pair of guided air bombs.
RSK-MiG is proceeding with wind tunnel tests at the Zhukovsky Central Aerohydrodynamics Institute (TsAGI). The next step is to build a flying demonstrator prototype to optimize the UCAV’s capabilities.
Flight tests are planned in both manned and unmanned configurations, with the use of airborne weapons also being evaluated. Future development phases are expected to lead to construction of a fully functioning Skat prototype.
RSK-MiG is funding the Skat UCAV with earnings from exports of its MiG-29 fighter family. According to Vladimir Barkovsky, chief of the group’s Mikoyan Engineering Center, further development of the UCAV may go international if prospective foreign partners show an interest in the project.
Russia’s defense industry appears to feel that it can make up lost ground in the race with Western rivals to take UCAVs to market, but not without some key changes.
“Russia is ten years behind the leading Western countries in the area of UAVs,” Yakovlev’s first deputy director general Nikolai Dolzhenkov told the ARMS-TASS Information Agency in a recent interview. “Such a lag can not be eliminated until the UAV projects get the status of government programs and priority funding.
“The last decade has graphically demonstrated the critical importance of UAVs for the armed forces and their role in real-time data collection and transfer to different levels of users. One may suppose that appropriate decisions will be taken soon that will foster this kind of aircraft in Russia,” Dolzhenkov predicted.