on Monday, German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall announced It is preparing to send its LUNA NG reconnaissance drone to Ukraine as part of Germany’s latest military aid package announced the same day. Delivery is expected by the end of 2023.

The number of drones to be sent was not announced, but a representative of Germany’s Ministry of Defense commented Procurement cost for drone system were in the “low double digit millions of Euros”, which would probably suggest $15 million to $20 million.

LUNA UAVs belong to a class of advanced medium-sized high-altitude reconnaissance drones. The exact unit cost for the LUNA NG could not be found, but similar advanced medium reconnaissance drones were $300,000 to $400,000 per unit range, If the purchase cost was approximately $15 million, this would mean delivery of approximately 40 to 50 units.

Compared to the low-cost, small, low-altitude quad-rotary drones used for front-line observation, LUNA is an entirely different animal.

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Training to be part of Ukrainian volunteers
Ukrainian volunteers train to be part of an “army of drones”.

Costing 50 to 100 times more than those low-cost drones, LUNA is packed with far more advanced technology. It aims to last longer and achieve more than nearly disposable low cost models.

While small reconnaissance drones currently operated by Ukraine near forward fronts rarely fly higher than a few thousand feet, LUNA aims to climb higher Elevation over 16,000 ft (5 km),

This improves survival by several factors:

  • Low observation capability due to small size and radar cross-section.
  • Low acoustic and thermal profile, with a quiet electric motor with low heat emissions.
  • High-altitude flight precludes most cost-effective counter-measures.
  • Fully pre-programmable flight paths that can be changed or operated by datalink, but completely avoid electronic and GPS jamming by relying on onboard self-steering functionality and inflight artificial intelligence.

Many reconnaissance drones have been lost to Russian electronic warfare, where jamming prevented the drone operator from continuing to guide the drone. However, LUNA is capable of autonomously operating its entire mission from start to finish. It doesn’t need to rely on an active datalink or GPS signal.

LUNA’s high-altitude flight path helps prevent most Russian anti-aircraft weapons from targeting it, and even if it is detected, at one-third to one-fifth the cost of shooting down a drone An anti-aircraft missile worth over $1 million is used. This missile is a loss deal for most of the enemies.

The high altitude combined with high-resolution cameras and advanced infrared and radar scanning equipment allows the drone to observe very great distances – an observable perimeter of more than 40 km radius. LUNA is capable of maintaining surveillance in low visibility conditions including nighttime, overcast, fog or smoke. system is included AI scene analysis Which helps in locating enemy movements and equipment locations and allows for rapid data review. That quick analysis can provide quick identification of enemy targets or changes in disposition.

The flight time of a LUNA NG is up to 12 hours and is Able to maintain direct datalink Range up to 100km, and satellite datalink up to 300km. In one flight, it can monitor up to 30,000 square kilometers. For comparison, the entire Zaporizhia Oblast juts a little over 27,000 square kilometers,

As such, the LUNA NG represents a class of high-altitude, low-observability advanced reconnaissance drone at the cutting edge of Western drone technology.

Compared to suicide drones, bomb-dropping drones, or large bomber drones like the Bekratar or MQ-1C Gray Eagle, the value of a reconnaissance drone can be difficult for the average person to understand.

Certainly, an extremely important aspect of reconnaissance is identifying enemy positions and strengths. It is easy to understand that if one side knows where the enemy has placed its units and defenses and the other side does not have comparable information, the side with the greater knowledge has a huge advantage.

There is another important aspect to a reconnaissance drone like LUNA, and that is winning artillery battles.

In last month’s Ukraine update, I described How advantages in counterbattery radar Give Ukrainian artillery units an edge over their Russian counterparts. This has helped Ukraine gain a one-sided 3:1 advantage in artillery firepower.

Why is counterbattery radar valuable? Because it helps artillery units to identify the locations of enemy artillery and other valuable targets.

What can a datalink-equipped, high-altitude, high-tech drone that can use AI analysis and high-resolution cameras to identify enemy targets up to 40 km away do? For one thing, identify enemy targets such as artillery or troops/equipment concentrations. Bearing in mind that Russian artillery has a range of only 20km or less, LUNA can fly 15km behind the front line and see deep enough into Russian-controlled territory to spot Russian artillery or troops advancing So to receive.

Even without flying over Russian-controlled territory, the LUNA NG can observe deep behind Russian lines to help identify Russian artillery or troop movements, making it very difficult for Russia to shoot it down.

For example, a LUNA drone flying around Orikhiv can observe a vast area relative to the size of the battlefield, about 10 km behind the current front line in Robotine.

A high altitude reconnaissance mission by LUNA NG can cover a vast area.

With its long flight time, LUNA can fly for very long periods and provide nearly live coverage over wide areas of the front line in critical areas, while remaining relatively safe from Russian observation or retaliation.

LUNA NG, together with Excalibur GPS-guided shells, HIMARS GMRLS rockets, Storm Shadow cruise missiles and other long-range precision weapons, will increase the effectiveness of the weapons Ukraine already has several times.

And the observation capabilities of LUNA NG will also significantly improve the accuracy and effectiveness of conventional artillery through target recognition.

When describing the Battle of Urozine on Saturday, I noted that “observation is firepower, The Luna NG drone does not have firepower of its own, but its powerful reconnaissance capabilities will improve the firepower of the Ukrainian Armed Forces by providing them with more powerful eyes.

This is a game-changer for Ukraine.

We must stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine as they stand against tyranny in the name of freedom. You can help them in their cause by donating whatever you can afford right now.

by lead image julian herzog, licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution International.

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