In its operational report as of 06:00 on January 19, 2022, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine indicated that defenders of Ukraine had destroyed, among other enemy assets, an experimental Merlin-VR reconnaissance UAV the day before. This was only the second case in the entire time of unprovoked large-scale aggression of the russian federation against Ukraine, when such an enemy UAV was in the sights of the warriors of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The first case of shooting down Merlin-VR UAV was recorded on June 16, 2022.
For the first time, the Merlin-VR reconnaissance drone was presented in September 2021. Russian propaganda immediately rushed to assign it loud epithets in the style of "technological breakthrough" or "unique solution" due to the presence of a seemingly "hybrid" power plant that allows you to take up to 6.5 kg of payload on board, have a flight duration of up to 10 hours and fly almost silently at an altitude of up to 5 km. The declared developer of this UAV is the Research Institute of Modern Telecommunications Technologies (НДІ "Современных телекоммуникационных технологий" in russian) in Smolensk.
When, in the summer of 2022, Ukrainian specialists carefully disassembled the only copy of the Merlin-VR UAV so far, it turned out that the situation with this russian drone is exactly the opposite. There was no "unique hybrid" power plant there - a regular internal combustion engine was installed on the UAV, to which a plastic canister was "screwed" instead of a normal fuel tank.
However, it turned out that the Merlin-VR UAV was generously packed with various components, apparently obtained to circumvent Western sanctions. For example, in the "innards" of this UAV they found a high-resolution French Lynred (Ulis) PICO1024 thermal imaging matrix, much better than the one installed on the "Orlan-10" UAV. It also appears that an Israeli-made lens and a Chinese-made starter generator were used there too.
It should be noted that the copy of the Merlin-VR UAV, which fell into the hands of Ukrainian specialists, had the markings of the military reception of the Ministry of Defense of the russian federation. This may indicate that the russians may have started serial production of this UAV.
However, six months have passed since then, and it seems that, if the Merlin-VR UAV was put into mass production, it was only piecemeal, which is why the russian occupiers rarely use drones of this type. This allows us to assume that, even if the russians managed to increase the import of components for their defense-industrial complex to circumvent Western sanctions by at least 10% in 2022, there is competition for these components among the "players" of the russian defense industry. It can be assumed that not all "players" will win such a "competition".