SensusQ analysis on the Orlan-10
Keywords: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT), Ukraine, Russia, Conflict.
In previous articles, we have written about a UAV dubbed the Orlan-20. In this article we return to the Orlan family and take an in depth look at its precursor the Orlan-10, (Russian: Орлан-10) which comes in a variety of configurations and analysis of which offers insight into the development of Russian military technology.
The Orlan-10 dates back to 2010 and has been observed in several different iterations. Like the Orlan-20, its design is based on joining civilian components from several manufacturers. The UAV comes in multiple configurations and can perform a variety of tasks, including reconnaissance, observation, monitoring, search and rescue, training, jamming, detection of radio signals, and target tracking; it has even been retrofitted to monitor nuclear fallout.
During the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is assessed that over 100 Orlan-10s have been downed by Ukrainian air defence and a complete Orlan-10 set was captured including documentation, sections of which have been released to the public. This has provided a wealth of Open Source (OS) information, which when combined with previous reports from the UAVs initial development and testing, provides insight into the development of the Orlan-10 family and its performance on the battlefield.
While the design approach is novel and offers several advantages. It is unlikely that the Orlan-10s performance lives up to paper specifications. While some units have been captured with relatively advanced components, the majority have been equipped with commercially available equipment not specifically designed for military applications. Some have even been documented with makeshift water jugs used as fuel tanks. This approach of constructing military UAVs from dispersedly sourced civilian components continues to be a necessity for Russia to avoid trade restrictions, and while it has resulted in a less capable UAV, it has also reduced production costs and increased the number of deliverable units. Today the Orlan-10 is the most widely used UAV in the Russian Armed Forces.
In 2010, while military enthusiasts and experts were criticising the Russian UAV industry, engineers from the Special Technology Centre of St. Petersburg (STC) (Russian: Специальный Технологический Центр) purchased components for assembling a radio-controlled airplane from AliExpress. The resulting UAV was named the ‘Orlan’ and the STC began offering it to various organisations. One of the first Orlan UAVs was demonstrated at the 2011 International Maritime Defence Show (Figure 1). When the Orlan-10 passed state tests in 2012, the Russian military began to purchase the Orlan and soon after a simple, reliable, and very effective for its class Orlan-10 became the most widely used UAV in the Russian Armed Forces.
The Orlan-10 is a reconnaissance UAV. Designed to monitor both large areas and perform object reconnaissance tasks in hard-to-reach areas as well as contributing to search and rescue operations. By integrating into the ESU TZ (Russian: единая система управления тактического звена - tactical link management system), it can also be used as an artillery spotter. The UAV can designate targets to all combat vehicles (self-propelled guns, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, air defence vehicles) connected to the ESU TZ. For example through its direct integration with the Msta-SM 152mm self-propelled Howitzer, the Orlan-10 can transmit targeting information which allows the Msta-SM to engage targets immediately after detection.
On paper the UAV has a particularly long range of up to 600 km and a flight duration of up to 16 hours. This allows the UAV to conduct long-range reconnaissance and patrol areas for an extended period. The payload of the UAV is limited to 5 kg, but it has many different configurations for different types of reconnaissance payloads and mission profiles. Different configurations of UAV can conduct surveillance in the electro-optical and infrared (IR) ranges. The Orlan-10 can automatically determine the position of switched-on GSM-phones, VHF radios, and operating radars in the x-band. The Orlan-10 may also be equipped with electronic warfare (EW) capabilities that allow it to jam GSM communications and simple GPS receivers. These capabilities make the Orlan-10 an excellent all-round reconnaissance UAV with applications in a wide variety of missions.
The Orlan-10 is supplied as a set which includes 2 UAVs, a portable launcher, ground control station, and a set of spare parts. In 2013, these sets cost 5 million roubles (approximately US$166,000) which was significantly cheaper than western UAV analogues in its class.
Civilian components are widely used in constructing the Orlan-10, which has made it possible to sharply reduce the production cost and produce 1000-1500 units for the Russian Federation. Annual Orlan-10 production is estimated to be between 200 and 300 units, making the Orlan-10 the most widely used drone by the Russian Armed Forces. By 2018 more than 1,000 Orlan-10s were produced in 11 different variations.
In 2021 over 50 were delivered for export to Russia's allies. To date, the UAV has been operationally deployed in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Name (ENG): Orlan-10
Name (RU): Орлан-10
Type: Reconnaissance UAV
Modifications: Orlan-30, Orlan-50
Military service: Army
Max take-off weight: 18 kg
Max weight of the mission payload: 5 kg
Speed: 90 - 150 km/h
Max range: 120 km
Service ceiling: 5 000 m
Ferry range: 600 km
Launch method: folding catapult platform
Endurance: 16 hours
Landing method: parachute recovery
Manufacturer: Special Technology Centre (STC)
Payload: a day-light camera, a thermal imaging camera, a video camera, a radio transmitter or EW jammer
2. UAV Description
2.1 Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)
The Orlan-10 is often supplied as part of an UAS which provides operators with all the necessary equipment to deploy and maintain several UAVs. According to the requirements of the 2012 Russian public procurement, which was tailored to the STC’s Orlan-10, one UAS includes:
A set of four drones, a control panel and a launch catapult can be transported on vehicles such as the UAZ-469 or similar. Up to four Orlan-10 UAVs can be controlled from the ground control station. Also, it is possible to set up a network of up to 30 operators to manage the payloads of simultaneously deployed UAVs.
2.2 Autopilot capabilities
The Orlan-10 comes equipped with autopilot APS 2.2, developed by St. Petersburg State University of Aerospace Instrumentation. The autopilot provides the Orlan-10 with a host of capabilities including:     
2.3 Regular mission payloads
The Orlan-10 can carry different Mission Payloads (MPL) for different tactical purposes and tasks. Different versions of the Orlan-10 mission payloads are components of a standard set of 3 UAVs, where different UAVs complement each other. Usually, one UAV unit uses two sets, and one set consists of three UAVs: 
MPL1 – Radio technical GSM-intelligence and electro-optical (EO) / IR reconnaissance
MPL2 – Gyro-stabilized EO payload
MPL3 – 360-degree gyro-stabilized IR payload
MPL4 – SIGINT direction finding payload
MPL5 - EW GPS spoofing/jamming payload
The UAVs can operate in a group of two or three, where the first is used for reconnaissance at an altitude of 1 to 1.5 km, the second one for EW, and the third one as a transponder that transmits intelligence information to the ground control station.
2.4 Experimental mission payloads
Several experimental MPLs have been developed for the Orlan-10. Experts from the Russian Federal Nuclear Centre have developed a version of Orlan-10 for radiation monitoring and examining a theatre of operations after the use of tactical nuclear weapons and dirty bombs. The drone can automatically generate a 3D map of radioactive contamination.
Another payload enables the Orlan-10 to act as a repeater for R-187-P1 and R-168MRA radio stations protected from EW as part of the ESU TZ, which makes it possible to dramatically increase the range of EW resistant communications.
Russian engineers have also been experimenting with the use of remotely controlled containers attached to the Orlan-10 which can be used for weapons delivery. However, the maximum payload of the Orlan-10 is only 5kg, so these UAVs are ill suited to such roles. During the 2022 Ukrainian War, the Russian Air Force began arming the Orlan-10 with grenades from 40mm VOG-25P grenade launchers. It is noticeable that the idea of turning a reconnaissance drone into a lethal drone was carried out at the factory level. One UAV is capable of carrying up to 4 bombs.
3. Development and Production
Orlan-10 development and production are very reliant on the use of cheap civilian imported components. This approach offers several benefits; the components are cheap and not regulated by legislation on the circulation of military technologies such as ITAR. All Orlan-10 electronics and engines are imported components, and designers have made a 'decoupling from suppliers' whereby no imported part is critical and can be replaced with an analogue. This differs from the approach taken by western manufacturers, who often rely on highly complex parts that must either be internally produced or sourced from a limited pool of certified suppliers. While the western approach offers significantly improved performance and functionality, it can quickly lead to supply chain issues if the manufacturing country and or its partners become subject to import/export restrictions.
For this reason, each study of a newly downed Orlan-10 reveals new configurations of microcircuits, optics, and even engines. Although many imported components are used in construction, some components are domestically produced, such as the composite glass fibre fuselage and the UAV software (Figure 2).
Like many Russian military projects, scandal and corruption have surrounded the Orlan-10. The minimum set of 2 Orlan-10 UAVs with a portable launch set, control station, and set of spare parts cost 5 million roubles in 2013 (Approximately US$166,000). However, the cost began to grow rapidly, reaching 50 million roubles (approximately US$1,660,000) for a set containing 3-4 Orlan-10s. The difference in price attracted the attention of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), who initiated an anti-corruption investigation. The investigation found that the price increase was associated with components from STD-Radiks LLC and Kazan Plant Elektropribor JSC, whose leaders were subsequently arrested. According to the investigation, STC contractors appropriated a total of approximately 466 million roubles by overpricing components. FSB officers found 48.6 million roubles in cash belonging to the detainees which was hidden in a backpack and suitcase. The contractors attempted to explain the overpricing as additional fees charged by Chinese suppliers to circumvent US sanctions. They stated that the suppliers supplied all the necessary components for the production of optical payloads for the Orlan-10, which were to be provided without warranty or support services. However, the FSB investigation found that the Chinese suppliers were charging market rates, but a margin of corruption was supplemented for the support and adaptation of their components. According to the Pentagon, in December 2012 the average purchase price of an Orlan-10 was US$87,000 - $120,000 including the cost of ground equipment for operators.
5. Further Development
In April 2021, Rostec Corporation, a Russian state-owned defence conglomerate headquartered in Moscow, demonstrated the joint operation of the 2С19 Msta-S self-propelled howitzer, upgraded to the 155mm standard NATO calibre, and the Orlan-10E reconnaissance drone. During the show, the artillery unit fired at a maximum distance of 40 km and demonstrated interaction with the Orlan-10E UAV. The drone transmitted target coordinates to a control station, which calculated the firing solution and transmitted it to a self-propelled howitzer.
Between late 2021 and early 2022, the commander of the Ukrainian 58th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade reported that the Ukrainian military had discovered a new modification of the Orlan. The new version has a higher flight ceiling of 5,500-6,500m, thanks to which it is more resistant to EW measures.
Some Orlan-10s captured in Ukraine have revealed an extremely low-cost approach to UAV construction and payload composition. In one example a water jug was used as a fuel tank and a cheap Canon camera with fixed zoom as an optical sensor (Figure 3). Other captured Orlan-10s have been equipped with more advanced equipment including American Flir thermal imaging cameras, Danish Phase One IXA 180 aerial mapping cameras, and other western gyro-stabilised electro-optical gimbal systems. In some Orlan product brochures, there is mention of products by the Israeli company Controp and their small gyro-stabilised payloads of the STAMP family.
In May 2022, one of the most recently manufactured Orlan-10s was captured in Ukraine. Manufactured in February 2022 the UAV was assembled from western components, the only exceptions being the parachute and МНП-М7 GPS-module, which is very vulnerable to EW attacks. A more advanced "Комета-М-ВТ" manufactured under Israeli license was found on previously downed UAVs. The only EW protection against GPS jamming was a foil sheet taped to the tail of the drone with double-sided tape (Figure 4). While the UAVs EW protection was rudimentary, it was equipped with a thermal camera containing a French Lynred PICO-640-046 sensor module providing thermal imagery for day/night use. The camera's sensor module captures images with a resolution of 640x480 pixels and a refresh rate of 120 Hz, it meets military standard MIL883. With its lens focal length of 75 mm, the PYCO640-046 can spot a person from 700 meters.
5.1 Orlan-30 and Orlan-50
On 11-12 February 2016 two new members of the Orlan family were unveiled at a Russian Defence Ministry sponsored conference on robotics. The Orlan-30 and Orlan-50 are scaled-up versions of the Orlan-10. Both have the same external dimensions and characteristics. The main difference between the new UAVs is that the Orlan-30 is single engine, and the Orlan-50 is twin engine. This allows the Orlan-50 to have a higher maximum take-off weight (50kg) and payload (15 kg) than the Orlan-30 (27 kg, and 8 kg respectively). Both have a cruising speed of 90 km/h, though the 180 km/h maximum speed of the Orlan-50 is also higher than that of the Orlan-30 (150 km/h).
Each UAV can carry three or four MPLs at any one time. Payload options for the Orlan-30 and Orlan-50 include an 80-megapixel aerial mapping camera; gyro-stabilised electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) gimbal; signals intelligence devices for monitoring radio traffic or direction finding; radiation monitoring sensors; and others. Both are equipped with a 120 km range secure data link with a transfer rate of 2-16 Mb/s. A single Orlan-30 or Orlan-50 UAS includes a ground control station and up to four UAVs, with one UAV capable of using its data link to act as a relay for control of the other three. It has been stated that the Orlan-30 can loiter three hundred kilometres from its take off point for up to five hours.
6. Operational History
6.2 War in Donbas
The Orlan-10 was deployed during the Russo-Ukrainian War in Donbas, despite aerial reconnaissance by unmanned aerial vehicles being banned under the Minsk agreements. Ukrainian officials have claimed to have shot down or captured approximately 15 UAVs of this type between 2014 and the start of the Russian invasion in January 2022. In addition to downed or captured UAVs, the RB-341V Leer-3 EW system, which can control up to three Orlan-10 drones specifically designed to monitor GSM communication networks, was also spotted in Ukraine by the OSCE in 2018 and 2020.
6.3 Syrian Civil War, 2011 - Ongoing
The Orlan-10 has been used by Russian Ground Forces in the Syrian Civil War for reconnaissance, collecting aerial imagery or 3D-mapping in support of humanitarian convoys, and search and rescue operations. At least seven UAVs of this type have been captured or destroyed in Syria.
6.4 Russian Invasion of Ukraine, 2022
The Orlan-10 has been actively used by the Russian Armed Forces since the first days of the 2022 invasion. As early as February 27, Ukrainian air defence shot down an Orlan-10. As of September 18, Oryxspioenkop has identified 87 Orlan-10s destroyed or captured during the invasion, given that Oryxspioenkop only reports downing’s verified by OS intelligence the actual number is likely much higher.
On September 11 2022, a full Orlan-10 set with ground control station, ground data terminal, and factory documentation was captured by Ukrainians forces in Izjum (Figure 5). The documentation contained operating frequencies of Orlan-10 radio stations and UAV technical specifications, which will allow Ukrainian air defence units and EW specialists to combat this class of UAV in the future.
The Ukrainian military has been downing Orlan-10s with both MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defence Systems), and EW means, it has been reported that the Orlan-10s EW countermeasures are poor. The adaptive small-sized GPS antenna of the "Kometa" series increases noise immunity by 40-50 dB, which means a reduction in the UAV suppression radius by 100-300 times. However, the Ukrainian military, with the help of EW, have proved that the Kometa antenna is not immune to EW attack.
The Orlan-10 is a good example of Russian innovation mixed with poor quality production. The capabilities of autopilot APS 2.2, developed by St. Petersburg State University of Aerospace Instrumentation and the general characteristics of the UAV platform as defined by the terms of the Russian public procurement demanded a high level of technology and performance. However, as is typical of Russian technological innovation, almost a decade since the initial requirements were published the reality is an Orlan-10 that in many cases performs better on paper than in the air with some specific characteristics showing notable innovation or improvement over time.
The UAV has been stated to have a rather long range and flight duration of up to 600 km and up to 16 hours. This is supposed to allow the UAV to conduct long-range reconnaissance and patrol areas for an extended period. However, physical analysis casts doubt on these performance claims. It seems more likely that these performance figures could only be achieved if all the available payload capacity is used for fuel storage. It is likely that with a normal MPL Orlan-10 could not achieve much more than half of the claimed flight hours.
Quantity is said to have a quality of its own, Russian technology has almost always failed to perform to paper specifications and considering the quality of internal components it is quite likely the same with Orlan-10. The use of extremely cheap components such as water jugs as fuel tanks must have an adverse effect on the performance and reliability. While some Orlan-10s have also been captured with more advanced optical equipment, they are the exception. This suggests that economic constraints and supply chain issues adversely impact the availability of more advanced components. UAVs with Canon cameras are more common than Lynred sensor equipped units. However, the Orlan-10 can be produced in significant quantities and without a complete blockade it would be impractical to stop the flow of parts required for its manafacture.
The capture of a complete Orlan-10 set with ground control station, ground data terminal, and factory documentation is certainly a success that will help the Ukrainian Armed Force better understand, track, and intercept Orlan-10s that are constantly conducting aerial reconnaissance on Ukrainian forces. In the long term, the Russian Armed Force will modify the configuration of key components to reduce the risk posed by lost documentation and equipment. It is difficult to determine how extensive the required modifications will be and when they will be implemented. From part experience, we can infer that the modifications will be gradually rolled out over several future iterations of the Orlan-10.
By October 17, 2022, Oryxspioenkop had reported on 138 destroyed or captured Russian UAVs in Ukraine. Of those, 90 (65%) were Orlan-10s, making it the largest contributor to Russian UAV losses in Ukraine. Oryxspioenkop counts only ’documented’ losses, with images that have been published in OS. It is likely that the actual number of destroyed or captured UAVs is much higher. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has reported that they have downed 1241 Russian UAVs from 24.02 to 17.10. However, they do not specify what types of UAV have been destroyed. Assuming the ratio of Orlan-10s to total UAVs destroyed is the same as in Oryxspioenkop, the actual number of Orlan-10s destroyed or captured is 807 (65% of 1241), probably more than 50% of all Orlan-10s ever produced. At this rate of loss, Russia could conceivably have sufficient Orlan-10 reserves to sustain its operations until June 2023. However, this assessment is based on a multitude of highly variable factors, not least of which is the difficult to predict production component supply lines.
The cheap commercially imported components, such as parts used in model aviation, are still as available in AliExpress today as they were in 2010 when the engineers from the STC assembled the first Orlan-10s. These parts are still not regulated by the legislation on the circulation of military technologies like ITAR or dual-use goods. This has the added advantage of not tying production to any one supplier, meaning that it is unlikely that sanctions or other restrictions would be able to prevent Russia from continuing production of Orlan-10s. We can expect to see more Orlan-10s in Ukraine and other conflicts, most probably in novel configurations.
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