The Russian Ministry of Defence has finally completed a prototype of the Altius-U, its version of the US's RQ-4 Global Hawk and Predator drones, Russian state news agency TASS has reported.
After several practical setbacks and cost increases, as well as the arrest of Alexander Gomzin, the general director of Altius's original designer last year, the six-ton Altius-U took to the skies for 32 minutes on Aug. 20, 2019, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced.
The prototype was outfitted with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) equipment during the test flight, said Samuel Bendett, a researcher at the CNA Corporation. Eventually, the drone will be armed to carry out precision attacks and will be able to carry up to one ton, Bendett told Insider.
The UAV flew at an altitude of about 800 meters, or 2,600 feet, although Bendett said that both the Altius and Russia's new Okhotnik stealth drone would eventually be able to fly at very high altitudes to penetrate adversaries' air defenses.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, the Altius-U is capable of a 24-hour flight time, which gives it the capability to move far beyond Russia's borders.
Bendett told Insider that Russia was trying to wean itself off of foreign military equipment and to learn lessons from combat in Syria — and the development of both the Altius-U and the Okhotnik shows just how far Russia has come on both those fronts.
"This was a capability they were craving," Bendett told Insider.
But the Altius prototype is only on its first test — "A lot has to happen" before either UAV is part of the Russian arsenal.
Even so, it's a clear signal to Russia's adversaries that it's taking note of UAV technologies coming from the US and Israel in particular, and that it is developing the capabilities to fight in the wars of the future.
The testing of the two UAVs "moves beyond the discussion of whether or not they can [build these types of weapons] to, 'Yes they did,'" Bendett said.
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