Operationally use of Russian UAVs in Syria
By the spring of 2016, a group of 70 Russian drones (about 30 UAV complexes) was deployed in Syria. In December 2016, it was reported deploing of 3 additional complexes (6-9 individual drones) in Syria to monitor the situation around the cease-fire that had been achieved between government forces and the opposition by that time.
In addition to the “land” UAV complexes from the army of drones of brigade and divisional subordination, UAVs of the formed in 2013 UAV fleet squadrons, equipped with drones Orlan-10 and Forpost (produced in Russia under the license of the Israeli IAI Searcher Mk II) were also involved and there were certain reasons for. By the moment, 6 of Russia's 10 Forpost complexes (each of 3 individual drones) were concentrated in the UAV fleet squadrons. The Forpost still remains the only type of complex approaching the MALE-UAV class in the arsenal. All the others nearly 2000 drones have a full take-off mass of not more than 30 kilograms that makes them substantially inferior to the Forpost in terms of payload.
To date, it is known that the headquarters of the Russian group in Syria got success in use of UAVs of all combat arms jointly. Thus, naval drones were used to monitor not only the fleet strikes, but also those of the Russian Air Force, and even in the interest of Russian and allied land groups.
There is Practically no information about if Russia uses in Syria any of the lightest tactical short-range UAVs that are directly used by the advanced land troops or near the front line. This does not mean the total absence of this kind of drones, but confirms limited Russia’s land troop contingent involved in Syria.
Taking into account numerous photo and video evidences of the detected drones in Syria, video recordings taken from UAVs that was distributed by the Ministry of Defense of Russia and known losses, we can assert that the most used type of drone, except Forpost was Orlan-10. And in fact Orlan-10 makes the third part of the entire Russian UAVs fleet and namely it’s characteristics determined the reconnaissance capabilities of the entire Russian grouping. With a maximum take-off weight of only 18 kg, the Orlan-10 has high enough characteristics and carries up to 5 kg of payload. It may be equipped with stabilized day and night cameras, and even EW assets. The small drone can transmit video online at a distance of up to 120 km from the control station and stay in the air for up to 14 hours, rising to a height of 5000 meters. The signal transmission range can be even further increased by using one Orlan-10 as a transmitter for another. Working automatically and in offline mode, a drone can shoot targets at a distance up to 600 km from a control station.