Russia has signed a contract to supply an unspecified number of Orlan-10E surveillance drones to Myanmar as part of a deal that also includes Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile systems and radar equipment.
The Russian defense systems, particularly the Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft systems, are expected to be deployed in Myanmar’s Shan state, which borders the Wa Self-Administered Zone controlled by the United Wa State Army, Myanmar’s largest ethnic armed organization, The Irrawaddy reported.
The deal was inked during Russian Defense Minister General Sergey Shoigu’s visit to Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw last week and marks Moscow’s entry into the unmanned aircraft market.
“Before, it was all hints that ‘foreign customers are interested,’” Samuel Bendett, an expert on Russian defense, told Forbes. “Now we are seeing Russia sell its combat-proven workhorse.”
The Orlan-10E has been in use in the Russian military since 2010 and is designed for aerial reconnaissance and surveillance from a maximum altitude of 6,000 meters (3.7 miles).
The drone can fly at a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour for up to 18 hours and can be controlled from about 90 miles away, wrote Forbes.
It is 1.8 meters long (5.9 ft.) with a wingspan of 3.1 meters (10.1 ft.) with a maximum takeoff weight of 18 kilograms (40 pounds), including a payload of 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds).
In its payload bay, the drone can reportedly carry an assortment of sensor options including daylight and thermal imaging cameras and 3D mapping gear, as well as laser designators that can indicate the precise location of a weapons system.
Long-Time Russian Defense Customer
Myanmar is a long-time buyer of Russian defense equipment. Since 2001, the Southeast Asian nation has bought 30 MiG-29 jet fighters, 12 Yak-130 jet trainers, 10 Mi-24 and Mi-35P helicopters, and eight Pechora-2M anti-aircraft missile systems.
In 2018, Naypyidaw signed a contract to buy six Su-30 fighter aircraft from Moscow.
That same year, the two nations also signed an agreement allowing vessels of their respective navies to enter each other’s ports.
Last year, Myanmarese soldiers took part in a joint military exercise in Russia, which also included defense personnel from Armenia, Belarus, Iran, Pakistan, and China.
Naypyidaw, once a heavy buyer of Western defense equipment, has grown closer to Moscow and Beijing since Western countries imposed sanctions on the country following the 1988 military coup.
More recently, however, the country has started to lean more towards Moscow at the cost of Beijing, The Irrawaddy wrote.