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The Drone Index: Luch Sokil-300

December 24, 2021

Via Ukrainian media.

Years of simmering conflict with Russia forced Ukraine’s military-industrial sector to shake off its doldrums and support the national cause. This was apparent at Arms & Security 2021 that took place from June 15 until 18 in Kyiv. The exhibition was a showcase for local military products and expectations were surpassed with static displays of two UCAVs: the Sokil-300 and the jet-powered ACE One stealth drone. The rapid development for either model is a ringing endorsement of Ukraine’s status as a center for aerospace manufacturing. What follows is a profile of the Sokil-300 based on details published by its manufacturer the Luch Design Bureau.

Months after it garnered some publicity during its first appearance in Kyiv the Sokil-300 is now available for export. This was ascertained through a legal arms dealer based outside Ukraine that provided its brochure with information originating from Luch. The Sokil-300 is evidently a medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) aircraft whose fuselage subscribes to a conventional layout; the navigation and surveillance systems are installed at the front while the propeller engine is at the back. The airframe itself is made of composite material and other lightweight alloys and the “high wing” placement with winglets shows it’s meant for hovering over the battlespace for long stretches.

Readers will be tempted to draw parallels with the US-made MQ-9 Reaper but there’s no proof of cooperation between General Atomics and the Sokil-300’s manufacturer. It simply adheres to a common design for MALE drones and is easier to compare with its closest rival the Russian Orion-E manufactured by Kronshtadt Group. The Orion-E, by the way, has proven its combat role with test flights where it carried anti-tank missiles on its wings. The Sokil-300 shares a stronger resemblance to another European drone, the Leonardo Xplorer, since both have Y-tails. The TAI Anka, although having larger dimensions, is a useful analogue as well since many of its characteristics are close to or match the Sokil-300.

The payload of the Sokil-300, whose takeoff weight is 1.13 tons, is modest for the aircraft’s size. The EO/IR pod or gimbal along with the armaments–two missiles underneath each wing–add a mere 600 pounds to its capacity. Flight characteristics are impressive, however, with mission endurance lasting 26 hours; a maximum altitude as high as 29,500 feet; and a radio link with its ground control station that extends as far as 300 kilometers. It’s important to explain the difference when manufacturers use the terms “flight range” and “transmission” or “communication range.” The latter is the useful metric since it indicates how far the operational flight of the drone is within its data link rather than the distance it travels. Manufacturers tend to exaggerate a drone’s range by publishing big figures when the extent of the link between the control station and the aircraft is more important.

The manufacturer of the Sokil-300 guarantees a range of operational and performance characteristics can be provided for the end user. The control station is modular, for example, and is adaptable to a vehicle of choice. It’s possible to equip the Sokil-300 with satellite navigation and an alternate engine other than the Austrian-made Rotax 914 UL. An AESA radar is available for the Sokil-300 if the end use requires one. The same applies to the armaments since Luch is best known as a manufacturer of smart munitions and there are three air-to-ground anti-tank missiles for the Sokil-300. It’s unclear if a small loitering munition also made by Luch is available for this drone. Take off and landing procedures are fully automatic.

Based on its external characteristics the Sokil-300 is one of the more impressive MALE UCAVs to come from Europe this decade. But its future with Ukraine’s military, and as an exportable unmanned system, isn’t set in stone. A lot of its competition is found in the Middle East and similar Chinese MALE combat drones like the CASC CH-4 and the AVIC Wing Loong I have taken a chunk of the market.


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