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Russia’s S-70 Okhotnik Stealth Drone Might Never Fight in Ukraine or Anywhere

S-70 drone. Image Credit: YouTube Screenshot.
S-70 drone. Image Credit: YouTube Screenshot.

Russia has long touted that its S-70 Okhotnik Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) is a formidable weapon even capable of penetrating outer space – a stealth drone that could be the future of Putin’s military machine.

However, this theoretical top-of-the-line drone has been noticeably missing in the country’s offensive efforts in Ukraine.

The s-70’s absence in warfare indicates that the weapon may not be as far along in its production process as Russian propaganda suggests.

In June, Russian-state media outlets reported that the S-70 “heavy strike fighter” successfully test-fired a guided munition at a ground target for the first time.

If true, this drone could enter the Ukraine conflict within 1-2 years – if the fighting goes that long, that is.

Earlier this month, a shortage of Iranian-supplied drones stymied attacks by Russian Forces. Moscow’s ability to produce homegrown UAVs would alleviate its reliance on Iranian imports and ultimately aid its war efforts. 

Here is the latest information about the S-70 at the moment:

A brief overview of the S-70 Okhotnik UCAV 

The Okhotnik’s design dates back to at least 2011, when the manufacturer Sukhoi was awarded by the Russian Defense Ministry to conceptualize a new UCAV program.

A Sukhoi subsidiary, Chkalov Novosibirsk aviation plant in western Siberia, is reportedly developing the weapon.

The original prototype of the S-70 was debuted back in 2017 and within one year the UCAV carried out its first series of testing, where it reached a speed of 200 km/h.

By 2021, the drone dropped an unguided bomb, signaling that progress was indeed being made.

The UCAV’s most recent guided munition test strongly indicates the drone could be ready to fly by 2024. 

What makes the S-70 special?

Developed to fly alongside the Su-57 fighter jet in a “wingman” role, the S-70 is reportedly capable of flying at over 600 mph.

The drone is powered by the same AL-41F turbofan that powers Russia’s Su-35 Flanker fighter and some early versions of the Su-57.

The new drone sports reconnaissance equipment including electro-optical targeting and radios. Weapons-wise, the S-70 is capable of carrying up to 2,000 kilograms of both guided and unguided munitions.

While it was largely public knowledge that the drone would be hefty since the weapon’s conception, the true girth of the s-70 became apparent in late 2021 when a Russian TV program showcased the UCAV.

Although the TV show’s reporter claimed that the Okhotnik is smaller in frame than the Su-57 fighter it is meant to accompany, images of the drone indicate that if there is a size difference, it is minimal. 

The Okhotnik has a reported weight of over 20 tons and a wingspan measuring approximately 65 feet, making the drone Moscow’s largest UCAV. 

Is the S-70’s “wingman” role really as advanced as Moscow reports?

Of all the Okhotnik’s proclaimed capabilities, Russian officials appear to be most excited by its “wingman” role. While the teaming arrangement between the fighter jet and UCAV was successfully tested back in 2019, the extent of the duo’s abilities remain unclear.

Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Russian Military-Industrial Commission reportedly said that the fighters and drones could “interact not only with each other but also in various types of combat formations”.

Russia’s progress on the Okhotnik development front was likely hindered by economic and equipment shortages. Moscow has been burning through its stockpile of raw materials and cash to fund its ongoing invasion in Ukraine.

Although the Kremlin has relied in part on Iranian-provided UAVs to conduct its offensive operations, the introduction of the S-70 could fill in supply gaps. But will this fighter, like so many other Russian military platforms, ever truly reach its full potential? 

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Maya Carlin is a Senior Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

Written By

Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.