S-70B Stealth Drone – Headed to Ukraine? Since launching its unprovoked and unwarranted invasion of Ukraine in late February, the Russian military has been unable to achieve air superiority. Moscow, which has faced numerous setbacks on the ground, also saw that some of its best and most modern aircraft have failed to live up to the hype. In June, reports circulated that a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-35 (NATO reporting name “Flanker-E”) near the city of Nova Kakhovka.
The Sukhoi Su-35S, which is the latest generation of the Soviet-era Su-27 fighter jet, was designed to intercept and destroy air targets in long-range and short-range air battles, while the aircraft can also carry out ground attack missions. However, Moscow has limited the use of such aircraft, likely out of fear that more would be shot down.
S-70B: Attack of the Drones
Russia has been increasingly relying on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in its air war in Ukraine, and it has even acquired Iranian-made drones. It is also possible, perhaps even likely, that the potentially deadly Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-B could be employed in the conflict sometime next year.
Earlier this year, Russia completed tests of its latest UAV in an air-to-air combat simulation at the Ashuluk training grounds. That exercise was aimed to assess the drone’s compatibility with the Su-57 stealth fighter in an unmanned wingman role. The Board of the Russian Military-Industrial Commission had previously announced that deliveries of the Okhotnik (Russian for “Hunter”) – its stealth heavy unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) – were on track to enter service in 2024.
The combat drone is being developed by Sukhoi and the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG as a sixth-generation aircraft project. It is reportedly based on the earlier Mikoyan Skat, which was also designed by MiG. The S-70B Okhotnik is considered to be in the same class of drones as the Dassault nEUROn or Boeing Loyal Wingman, which could each act as force multipliers and augment the capabilities of manned aircraft – notably fifth- and sixth-generation stealth multirole fighters.
The S-70B is believed to be powered by either a single AL-31F turbofan – the same used on the Sukhoi Su-27 fighter – or via the improved AL-41F derivative that is installed on the Su-35S fighters and Su-57 prototype aircraft. It has a range of 6,000 km and a combat range of 4,000 km. The UAV also features two internal weapons bays that can carry up to 2,000 kg of guided and unguided munitions.
The S-70B drone utilizes stealth technology and features a flying wing design, which lacks the tail, to reduce its radar signature. According to the data from open sources, the drone has a take-off weight of 20 tonnes and can develop a speed of around 1,000 km/h.
The Okhotnik conducted its debut flight on August 3, 2019. The flight lasted over 20 minutes under an operator’s control. On September 27, 2019, the drone took part in a test flight that lasted more than 30 minutes with a Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet. During that flight, the drone maneuvered in the air in automated mode at an altitude of around 1,600 meters.
Work on the drone was scheduled to be completed by this month, with the goal to begin serial production in 2023. It has been reported that serial deliveries to the troops are due to begin in 2024, but it could be flying over Ukraine – if the war continues – early next year.
Video: For the first time UCAV S-70 Okhotnik-B launches an air-to-ground missile.
A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.