The range of Russia's new Altius drone to embrace all of Europe

The Russian army is awaiting a new heavy Altius drone. Why hasn't it taken off yet?

Regularly different types of Russian unmanned aerial vehicles appear in the sky over Donbass, such as Forpost, Orlan, Cube — almost all of UAVs except Altius, which has been in the media spotlight for more than a decade. The fact that Russian army still doesn't have the Altius heavy drone raises questions not only from the expert community, but also from politicians. Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian government, Yuri Borisov. Back in June last year, according to Mr. Borisov, the Altius UAV was at the stage of mass production launch, and it has been at the same stage up till now. Though the first Russian heavy UAV has a complicated history of creation.

The Russian military is waiting for a unique drone to be used in Ukraine this year. Experts suggest that the appearance of such a UAV in service will make Russia a world leader in the field of unmanned aviation. With similar characteristics to attack drones — the Turkish Akinci and the American Reaper — the Altius is more versatile and has a good long-range potential. The drone is capable of performing tasks over the entire territory of Europe, its power reserve can be 10 thousand kilometers or 48 hours in the air. For comparison, the Reaper MQ-9 has a range of 2000 km, and the Akinci has a range of 7500 km.

The significance of unmanned aircraft for Russia in its operation in Ukraine is obvious — the combat experience in Ukraine has shown how important drones and the air defense system are. Drones provide reconnaissance, surveillance, UAVs help locating the targets for artillery, give an objective analysis of the results of defeat, and can also perform as carriers of weapons. In modern military conflicts this military equipment is a basic need.

The latest version of the Altius-RU with a wingspan of up to 30 meters is capable of carrying up to two tons of weapons under the wings. The advantage of the Russian UAV in its class is indisputable, since the wingspan is 10 m larger than that of its foreign analogues, the payload is 25-50% larger. Altius is designed for a wide range of weapons and it will be able to carry both missiles and bombs. The UAV will be able to use weapons for 500 or more kilometers deep into enemy territory. Obviously, this combat vehicle would become an advantage for Russia in its operation in Ukraine.

Deputy Prime Minister Borisov also noted that it would be good to combine heavy attack drones Orion and Altius with anti-ship missiles. At the same time, the Orion UAV has already managed to distinguish itself in action: during several sorties, the drone destroyed a large armament depot, as well as several Ukraine's military headquarters. As to Altius, it has no analogues. The Orion drone operates only within a 250-kilometer zone, it doesn't have enough power to carry several missiles far beyond the front. And if it's all true, then why the Russian army still hasn't received this special drone?

Weird criminal case

Maybe the reason the fact that the former head of the OKB Simonov Design Bureau, who was involved in the development of Altius, is under investigation?

It is worth recalling that this private enterprise has been developing Altius by order of the Ministry of Defense since 2011. Despite the enormous financing of the project (only at the initial stage it had been spent spent about 1 billion rubles, an impressive amount was also spent on its completion), the Simonov Design Bureau could not meet the deadlines. Alexander Gomzin, co-owner and general designer of the Simonov Design Bureau, was accused of fraud with the state money. Gomzin believes that he was deliberately framed to cut down the project.

Court proceedings went on for years, pre-investigation activities were conducted, witnesses were interviewed. As a result, in December, the Supreme Court of Tatarstan began to re-examine the criminal case against Gomzin.

While in jail, back in 2018, Gomzin addressed a letter to the FSB, in which he reported an attempt to raid the Simonov Design Bureau, making public a version about the connection of British businessman Dmitry Tsvetkov, the former son-in-law of State Duma deputy Rinat Khayrov with the development of the UAV.

The resulting scandal led to the fact that the project to create the Altius was handed over to the Ural Civil Aviation Plant for completion. And in 2021, the Simonov Design Bureau was declared insolvent due to a debt of approximately 26 million rubles. Kazan JSC Sokol-Invest also got into the register of creditors, through this company Gomzin owned 69.6% of the Design Bureau shares.

Western technologies in Russian UAV

In 2015, Sokol-Invest bought out a blocking stake of the Simonov Design Bureau, which used to belong to the Republic of Tatarstan. Later, these shares were transferred to Falcon Air LLC, which was managed by businessman Rustem Magdeev. According to Versiya, he collaborated with the Miltek company, which appeared in the criminal case against Gomzin. According to the criminal case, in 2012-2013, the Design Bureau transferred 390.8 million budget rubles ($12.5 million), which were directed by the Ministry of Defense to create UAVs, to Miltek, which acted as a contractor. Miltek sent this money to the British Hegir Advisory Ltd and its subsidiary — the German Alpha Air GmbH, both controlled by Dmitry Tsvetkov. Magdeev, through Miltek, was responsible for interaction with the Design Bureau, and Tsvetkov for the cooperation with foreign partners.

The list of purchases included composite materials for the drone, the RED A03/V12 diesel engine, which is produced by the German company Red Aircraft, and other advanced technologies that the Russian Design Bureau planned to apply when designing a heavy UAV.

At the same time, the engine did not correspond to the brief plan at all, since it was much weaker than required. However, it is said in the case file that the engines were purchased for tests. However, the tests of the heavy drone failed, others had to complete the project, and instead of the German "test" exemplar, they had to use the VK-800V engine created at the Klimov Design Bureau. This may not be a mistake: as the events of the last year and the sanctions introduced against Russia have shown, the decision to work with Russian components was the only right one.

The 10-year-long project demonstrated that it was not worth betting on foreign developments. The price of the engines, which Tsvetkov put up to Russian partners, also raises questions: in 2012, the real price tag was around $170 thousand, but the Simonov Design Bureau paid many times more.

Under the contract with Miltek, Tsvetkov's companies received 11.2 million euros. Moreover, this amount, in addition to the purchase of engines, might include other services. According to the documents leaked to the media, Dmitry Tsvetkov undertook a commitment to build relationships with the research centers of the Technical University of Dresden and Karlsruhe, as well as to work with specialists of the German company LZS, which deals with composites.

The Kazan Design Bureau miscalculated — the bet on supposedly advanced German technologies led to a criminal case and bankruptcy, and the drone remained gathering dust in the hangar. Dmitry Tsvetkov is sure that his companies fulfilled their obligations: they bought and transferred advanced technologies to Russia, but the Design Bureau could not use them competently. But Tsvetkov announced another version to the Western media: he said that he had bought technologies for Gazprom. However, as follows from the agreement between Miltek and Hegir Advisory Ltd., Dmitry Tsvetkov was well aware that he was acquiring technologies for the Simonov Design Bureau, which is on the list of contractors of the Ministry of Defense, not Gazprom. Besides, at that time Tsvetkov was the son-in-law of Russia Deputy Rinat Khayrov, a member of the State Duma Committee on Defense. At the time of signing the contract in 2012, information about the launch of work on the Altius had already been published, all participants of the process, including Dmitry Tsvetkov, were well aware that they were working on an highly important military project: from the beginning, the Altius was positioned as a heavy strike-reconnaissance UAV, not as a dual-use device.

In addition, some experts believe that with the stated characteristics, Altius may well use high-tech Western composites and other technologies, for which Tsvetkov's Hegir Advisory Ltd. and Alpha Air GmbH were responsible. However, Russian scientific base was also in us. For instance, Alexander Gomzin, the head of the Simonov Design Bureau has a degree, he made dozens of inventions, including in the field of aircraft, and his Design Bureau has worked successfully with the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation for a long time.

Diamond banquet covered by the state money

The conflict that broke out between Rustem Magdeev and Dmitry Tsvetkov deserves special mention. Tsvetkov, apparently, intended to buy out the Simonov Design Bureau, he even acquired part of the shares, but after a while they ended up in the hands of another buyer. A court was held in Cyprus, since Tsvetkov intended to recover the $ 1.3 million spent on paying for the stake transferred to Magdeev's account in a Swiss bank. This dispute was a continuation of another conflict — in 2013-2015, businessmen implemented a joint project to open a boutique of the British jewelry house Graff in Cyprus, but a couple of years later the joint business ended with courts in several jurisdictions.

Financial experts say they have question about the total amount of the money spent. The investigation believes that the Simonov Design Bureau brought 390.8 million rubles to the West along the Miltek-Tsvetkov chain. At the 2012-2013 exchange rate, it turns out about 9.5 million euros. At the same time, Tsvetkov himself names the amount almost 2 million euros more:

"Hegir Advisory Ltd. received a total of 835,000.00 pounds and 10,145,000.00 euros from Miltek LLC in accordance with the Agreement on Consulting Services," Dmitry Tsvetkov said in an interview with the British Forensic News.

But the documents signed by Tsvetkov indicate that it has been a different amount of money: in total, Hegir Advisory Ltd. received more than 13.5 million euros and 1.6 million pounds from Miltek. This is almost 6 million euros more than the Simonov Design Bureau paid to Miltek, according to the investigation materials. Such a difference can be explained by the activities of the company EK Luxury Goods, which was created by Dmitry Tsvetkov in the same years and in which, as follows from the materials of the trial in London, Rustem Magdeev allegedly invested in 2013. We say allegedly because the London court refused Magdeev to recover $10 million from Tsvetkov in the so-called "diamond" case.

EK Luxury Goods (was renamed Equix Group Limited) is the company that sold Graff jewelry and which later opened the Graff Boutique and Halcyon Gallery in Cyprus. A little later, Equix Group Limited and Graff/Halcyon in Cyprus had new investors associated with Russian organized crime, but that's another story. The case of interest here are the sums that Dmitry Tsvetkov received as part of the work on the Russian heavy drone project. The withdrawal of the state money abroad is a little weird: they took less from the Simonov Design Bureau than they actually spent. Obviously, they spent money not only on buying Western technologies, but also on launching a jewelry business with Graff and a gallery business with Halcyon. As a result, the Kazan Design Bureau did not receive what it paid for, and Dmitry Tsvetkov opened a Graff boutique in Cyprus. It turns out that the Cyprus franchise of the British jewelry house Graff and the London gallery Halcyon were financed from the Russian budget, at the expense of the money of the defense order? The parties do not give any other explanation. Of particular interest in this situation is Tsvetkov's connection with Halcyon: the gallery is owned by the former treasurer of the Conservative Party of Great Britain, Ehud Sheleg, a friend of Boris Johnson.

In the end, Alexander Gomzin became the one responsible. Gomzin, by the way, was invited to the opening of the Graff boutique in Cyprus. Could the general designer and the General Director of the Simonov Design Bureau imagine back then that gorgeous diamond jewelry was purchased at the expense of the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation?

It is quite possible that fraud is not the case here. In one of his interviews Alexander Gomzin said that only the enemies of Russia could act so ingeniously in order to disable a unique military secret project that has no analogues in Russia. Who knows, maybe he's right.

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Author`s name Andrey Mihayloff
Editor Dmitry Sudakov