WASHINGTON â€” Officials from the Russian defense firm Kronshtadt Group announced the possible sale of the companyâ€™s Orion UAV to a country in the Middle East. But which Middle Eastern country is purchasing the platform, and what capabilities does the system bring to bear?
The Orion-E (export version) is Russiaâ€™s medium-altitude, long-endurance drone with a reported range of 250 kilometers, a total flight duration of about 24 hours and a maximum altitude of 8,000 meters. While originally designed for only intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, Russia has announced a combat version that can carry up to 200 kilograms of cargo, which will also be available for export.
The Orion â€śmost closely resembles Americaâ€™s Predator/Gray Eagle UAV in its technical characteristics,â€ť according to Samuel Bendett, an expert on Russian military robotics.
The Chinese model that most resembles the Orionâ€™s capabilities is the Wing Loong.
According to Russian sources, Bendett said, â€śthe two countries most likely to acquire [the Orion] are Syria and Egypt. Syria and Russia already enjoy a very close mil-to-mil relationship, while Egypt is diversifying its military imports from reliance on U.S. and occasional Chinese technologies.â€ť
But there are other potential buyers, Bendett notes. â€ś[The United Arab Emirates] has imported Russian military technology before, and Russia recently announced closer cooperation with Lebanon. Iraq, which has imported Chinese UAVs, has also started to import more Russian military equipment,â€ť he said.
â€śRussia is keen to win new UAV markets but realizes it has an uphill climb against American, Israeli and Chinese UAVs in the short- to mid-range sector,â€ť Bendett added.
China in particular is a fierce competitor in the Middle East UAV market. As the U.S. Defense Department noted in its annual report to Congress on Chinese military and security developments, â€śthe Middle East and North Africa region was Chinaâ€™s second largest regional arms market, probably because of the demand for armed UAVs â€” a niche area where China is one of the few suppliers.â€ť
â€śChina has sold armed UAVs to several states in the Middle East and North Africa, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. China faces little competition for sale of such systems, as most countries who produce them are restricted in selling the technology as signatories of the Missile Technology Control Regime,â€ť among other export control agreements, the report said.