In an apparent bid to reduce dependence on Chinese drones, Russia’s state-owned defense contractor Almaz-Antey Concern has begun manufacturing small civilian aircraft at scale. The company says its aim is to assemble 400 drones in November, with another 1,000 units being produced in December when the product goes on sale.
Almaz Antey’s North-West Regional Center (NWRC) in St. Petersburg is the designated production hub for this project, which was envisioned as part of a program to diversify Russia’s military-industrial complex. Almost all the components of the drone, including the carbon fiber for its body, flight controller, and software, are being produced indigenously by Almaz-Antey.
The company says the final product will be a high-performance device, boasting popular consumer drone features, but with functionality that is simple enough for even a novice user. It will be lightweight but have enough strength to withstand strong winds and extremely cold weather. Each unit will undergo rigorous quality checks before being made available to users.
The drone will be supplied in a ruggedized waterproof case for easy storage and transportation. In addition to the aircraft, the delivery kit will include two rechargeable batteries, a remote controller with an in-built screen, spare parts, and other key components. It will also be possible to charge the drone from a car battery to facilitate remote operations.
Though it is not yet known what each drone would cost, Almaz Antey has started to accept pre-orders for the offering, stressing that the final price will be significantly lower than what’s typically asked by foreign counterparts.
The company also says it is working on equipping the aircraft with additional capabilities and payloads for 2023 when production is also ramped up.
Both Russia and Ukraine are widely using civilian drones for reconnaissance purposes in the ongoing conflict. But the supplies of consumer drones in Russia are dwindling fast. Just last month, the UK’s Ministry of Defence shared an intelligence update stating that the situation is growing worse with international sanctions sapping Moscow of military-grade drones in addition to the spare parts needed to repair damaged aircraft.
The world’s largest consumer drone manufacturer, DJI, suspended all business activities in Russia and Ukraine in April 2022, highlighting that the company’s products are not designed for military applications and that it does not support any use of its products that harms people’s lives, rights, or interests. In this background, it wouldn’t be surprising if these drones find their way into the Russian military instead of civilian hands.