A Rare Find

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have become fixtures on the modern battlefield. There are military and non-military versions of UAVs. They have become the “eyes in the sky” in Russia’s war with Ukraine, where neither side has established air superiority. In the past week, the Ukrainian military forced two Orlan series drones to land, taking possession of both. One was an Orlan series 10 drone, and the other was a less commonly encountered Orlan 30 series aircraft.


Here we see a short video (complete with a short soundtrack) of the Russian Orlan-30 drone captured recently by Ukrainian forces. It appears to be intact. Video from YouTube and Mujeeb Qamar

Gagadget.com reports that the Ukrainian Air Force captured both of the UAVs. However, they preferred to focus more on model 30 as they say the model 10 Orlans are “eliminated” almost daily.

Ukraine Weapons Tracker posted images of the drones on Twitter, stating that “electronic warfare systems” allowed the aircraft to be captured. I suppose that likely means they were hacked and taken control of. In the comments (so take this with a grain of salt), it was noted that this was the 85th confirmed loss of an Orlan 10 but only the 4th loss of an Orlan 30.

Chart in Ukrainian explaining the basics of the Orlan 30 drone
The original version is in Ukrainian. Courtesy of UA Weapons Tracker.
Chart explaining captured Russian Drone translated from Ukrainian to English
The same graphic as shown above, but this time utilizing the Google Translate app to make it readable to English speakers. I’ve included both versions here so you can get an idea of how well the free app works. Original image courtesy of UA Weapons Tracker

The Ukrainian Military Center, back in August, wrote about how the soldiers of the Ukrainian 54th Mechanized Brigade shot down their second Orlan-30. Their statement read, “During the day, servicemen of the 54th Mechanized Brigade in the air shot down a drone, which was launched by the invaders for reconnaissance of Ukrainian positions in the east. As it turned out, the downed UAV 褑褎褨 an “Orlan-30”.聽聽

The first drone of this type was “landed,” as they put it, in April of 2022. Below is a photograph they took of that aircraft. All of the parts I can see appear to be “off the shelf,” At its heart, it seems to be a reasonably straightforward yet robust model aircraft containing some sophisticated instrumentation.

A Russian Orlan 30 captured by Ukrainian forces was taken apart and examined.
The Orlan-30 captured from April 2022 was taken apart and examined. Image Credit: The Ukrainian Military Center

About the Russian Orlan Series of Drones

These drones have been in service for a long time, with the Orlan-10 (袨褉谢邪薪-10) first being manufactured by Russia’s Special Technology Center (STC) in St. Petersburg in 2011. The UAV has a composite hull that supposedly reduces its radar signature. According to AirForce Technology, their maximum takeoff weight is 16.5 kg, and they have a wingspan of 3.1 meters. They were designed to be aerial reconnaissance vehicles suitable for search and rescue roles, enemy detection and observation, and communications jamming. They have been put to use worldwide, and in Syria, in 2015, an Orlan-10 was instrumental in locating a surviving member of a downed Su-24M2 bomber.

They have been used to help kill as well, and not just in Ukraine. For example, in June of 2021, Orlan drones located and targeted a senior Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) leader in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province, according to Middle East Eye (MEE). Abu Khalid al-Shami, the military spokesman for HTS, and a member of his media office were killed by a rocket attack when anti-tank missiles impacted the vehicle they were riding in. A witness on the ground told MEE, “The car was monitored by modern reconnaissance drones that gave accurate coordinates to anti-tank guided missiles, which burned the entire car and killed the two leaders immediately.”聽

The News Dept聽reported that the recent capture of the Orlan-30 was achieved after the controls were hacked by Ukrainian forces and the onboard parachute deployed. This allowed for a soft landing that did not damage the aircraft. According to them, this more advanced model has a 27 kg takeoff weight and can achieve speeds of up to 170 km/h. It can fly for up to five hours on its gasoline-powered engine at a maximum altitude of 5 km. Like the model 10, it also launches from a catapult.

One of the most valuable features of this reconnaissance drone is its laser rangefinder, which can be used to illuminate or “paint” enemy targets on the ground for guided Russian munitions. It is also typically fitted with an 80-megapixel camera with image stabilization electronics capable of locating enemy communications devices. Once discovered, Russian artillery could then use the coordinates provided by the Orlan-30 to launch coordinated strikes on those locations.