The ‘Pterodactyl’ is a lightweight drone with a shell made of composite materials, connected to the combat vehicle with a flexible cable. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) will hover within a radius of 50-100 metres around the combat vehicle and climb to a height of several dozen metres. The ‘Pterodactyl’ will be equipped with radar and a thermal imaging camera.
“The development work continues, but around a year from now, we will send samples for testing to the Defence Ministry,” said Vitaly Polyansky, Senior Research Fellow of the Air Robotics Systems Department of the MAI. “At the moment, we are working on making the drone lighter and increasing its load carrying capacity, but the key element – the tethered system has already been tested in our laboratory, and has fully confirmed all assigned characteristics,” Polyansky told Izvestia.
Compared with drones that are controlled by radio, the Pterodactyl can stay in the air much longer and carry more equipment on board, because it does not have to carry any batteries. Another advantage of the tethered management system, is complete protection against eavesdropping.
Another feature which makes the Pterodactyl unique is that it is made using the tilt-rotor scheme: the aircraft’s propellers can be rotated along with its wings. This allows for the advantages of a helicopter and an aircraft combined in one machine. As a result, the drone can reach high speeds in the air, moving with the tank at full speed, while it is able to levitate in a small area, including directly over the hull of the vehicle.
“The idea of an unmanned intelligence aircraft, managed on a flexible cable, is not new – the first time such a device was used was at the end of the 1960s on a West German unmanned helicopter, the Dornier Do-32K. It was managed by a cable and also received its fuel the same way,” military expert Oleg Zheltonozhko told Izvestia. “Currently, a cable interface is used on the Israeli copter Hovermast, but it is not used as part of a combat vehicle.”
Zheltonozhko said a system in which the reconnaissance drone is directly part of the combat vehicle, does not yet exist.
“The use of a light UAV, equipped with a thermal imaging camera and radar, as an external monitoring system, seems a logical solution for future armoured vehicles, the range of which exceeds the visual range of onboard detection equipment,” said the expert. “For example, the main weapon of the Armata can hit a target at a distance of 8 km, while the recognition of an enemy tank through the sighting channel is limited to 5 km. Because of the Pterodactyl, the tank crew can see the situation on the battlefield, while staying hidden in a shelter or behind buildings or uneven terrain,” he explained.
Zheltonozhko also said that equipping armoured vehicles with external surveillance systems, will enable them to survey the area for a distance of at least 10 km, will provide the Armata with distinct advantages over any of the existing equipment the opponents may possess.