Not exactly a surprise, but Russia is developing several drone programs to stand up to the United States and NATO. Moscow now has one of the most advanced drones in the world. Dubbed the “Okhotnik” (“Hunter”), the S-70 can fly up to 600 miles per hour. The Okhotnik has a flying wing design and is one of the largest drones in the world weighing in at 20 tons, which is heavier than some fighter aircraft. The flying wing is supposed to be stealthy due to its shape and low silhouette.
S-70: The Concept
The Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-B has some artificial intelligence capabilities giving it autonomous ability on how to conduct its own targeting maneuvers and protocols. This means that it does not require a full-time link to a human operator and is at an advantage when it is confronted with electronic countermeasures. The Okhotnik can engage in deep strike with a range of 3,700 miles and attack with munitions or serve as an airborne early warning craft.
Russia Has an Unmanned Wingman for the Su-57
The S-70 Okhotnik is a sixth-generation drone being tested by Russia. It is likely powered by the same engine as the Su-35S. The aircraft is an “ever-loyal wingman” drone designed to fly with the stealthy 5th generation Su-57. The Su-57 is being retrofitted to be able to communicate and interface with the Okhotnik. The stealth drone can be configured to launch its own attacks or to conduct electronic warfare for the Su-57. The Okhotnik can also serve as an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance drone and give targeting information to the Su-57.
Testing for the S-70 Stealth Drone is Reportedly Going Well
The S-70 can carry 4,400 pounds of bombs and the ordnance can be directed by the Su-57 fighter pilot. The pilot may be able to control up to four Okhotniks from a Su-57 cockpit. In January of this year, the Okhotnik tested a bombing run in the Ashuluk range that is about 680 miles south of Moscow. The Okhotnik reportedly dropped a half-ton unguided bomb successfully. Russian state-run media said that it could hit a moving target as well.
The “ever-loyal wingman” concept is intriguing. It is doubtful that the Russians would be able to control four of the drones with the actions of a single fighter pilot. But this introduces a new wrinkle in air combat for the Russians. The Okhotnik is a beast if its specifications are accurate, and if it can complete all of its testing successfully in the coming years. It may not be that stealthy though. The Russians are believed to have over-stated the radar evasion aptitudes of the Su-57. So, they are probably engaging in some wishful thinking for their radar-evading drone.
And can it conduct different missions than armed surveillance? It may be able to actually do airborne early warning and help set up targets for the Su-57. The Russians are aiming for next-generation manned and unmanned warfare in the skies and should be given credit if they can fully integrate the Okhotnik with the Su-57.
1945’s new Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.