From An-225 to Tactical UAS

Ukraine’s Antonov recently debuted their first UAV.  Those concerned with armed UAV proliferation should be worried. Here’s why.

Struggling Manufacturer/Nation

Antonov was one of two design bureaus for large cargo aircraft in the former Soviet Union. They built a wide range of propeller and jet driven aircraft including the largest aircraft in the world, the An-225. While their interest still appears to be in airliners and cargo aircraft, it seems necessity has driven them into the drone business. The post-Soviet era has not been friendly to Antonov as they have struggled to produce new aircraft. They are probably better known for their heavy lift services using the An-124 and An-225 as well as notorious arms dealers using their vintage An-12s.  Meanwhile, press reports indicate an unwillingness of foreign suppliers to provide off the shelf unmanned aircraft to Ukraine. So, when you are fighting an internal conflict and you need drones, you go to the people who know about building large airplanes, because there’s no other choice.

+ Armed Drone

The external stores under the wings appear to be missiles. They are consistent in size and appearance with Ukraine’s Corsar anti-tank missile. Whether this a real configuration or just for show, I do not currently know. That said, arming drones is something the Ukrainians are not strangers to. They were among the first to add grenades to small drones. One company has even went as far as mounting a shoulder-launched anti-tank missile on a large quadcopter.

= Proliferation

What’s really concerning about this debut is the proliferation potential. Ukraine and Anontov could both really use the export business. Also, a well known brand could make them a favored supplier in many developing nations, especially if they can compete with China on price. Will it play out this way? Who knows, but it demonstrates that everyone is getting in on the drone game and the potential for drone tech transfer to bad actors is getting worse by the day.

 

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