The Russian air force will be utilizing the popular “Loyal Wingman” concept. This means a next-generation stealth fighter controls an unmanned aircraft. In this case, I am discussing the Su-57 stealth fighter flying with the Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-B (Hunter) drone. The Su-57 may be able to deploy with up to four S-70s, giving the Su-57 the ability to stay out of range of enemy air defense systems and still bring the fight to the enemy with the heavy combat drones.
S-70 Okhotnik and Felon Tandem Flights
The Su-57 can tether the next-generation Okhotnik unmanned craft from over 900 miles away, according to the Bulgarian Military site quoting Russia state-run media. If these capabilities can be believed, and the claims could be merely propaganda spread by the Russian air force and defense contractors, it would be a significant development for the Okhotnik that is looking for a force multiplier mission in 21st century warfare.
Hide From Enemy Radar
The Okhotnik could fly deep into enemy air space and take out air defenses or jam them enabling a follow-on attack by the Su-57. Both aircraft have stealth characteristics.
The linkage of the Su-57 and the Okhotnik will be a sophisticated artificial intelligence data link that enables the Loyal Wingman capability. This will be a digital system that will efficiently control the Okhotnik.
Artificial Intelligence-Enabled Communication
“AI-based technology enables noise-immune coding through the use of parallel channels. This is the ‘wrap’ of the technology. Its structure includes multiple interleaving of symbols, time synchronization during transfer, simultaneous transmission of data in all directions [air-to-ground or air-to-air], and increasing the range of transmitted data,” according to Russian defense contractor Rostec.
The S-70 Okhotnik uses a flying wing design to improve stealthiness. This design process began in the early 2000s to mimic the U.S. B-2 bomber. The combat drone has a Saturn AL-41F1 turbofan engine with 32,000 pounds of thrust that produces a top speed of 620 miles per hour. Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance is provided by its sophisticated radar and electronic warfare system. Targets can be tracked up to 400 miles away.
Armaments include the R-73 or R-77 air-to-air missile and a 30mm cannon for close combat. Free-falling unguided bombs have been tested by Russia and the Okhotnik is expected to have precision-guided munitions for ground attacks.
S-70: Can It Survive in Contested Airspace?
The S-70 Okhotnik is surprisingly maneuverable despite the flying wing shape. The turbofan engine and advanced avionics gives it the power and agility to make it a difficult target to eliminate.
The stealth coatings absorb and deflect radar waves. This will reduce its radar signature. Weapons will be in internal bays to promote better stealth attributes and minimize radar cross-section.
Systems on the aircraft are designed to be upgradable as technology improves in the future. The Okhotnik could also be designated for foreign sales and exports someday. This would likely mean Iran or Syria could take an interest in a potential purchase – a move that would concern Israel.
The Russian defense industry is focusing on land systems and missile production at the moment. The Russian tank fleet has suffered greatly at the hands of the Ukrainian military. This may be the priority over newfangled platforms like the Okhotnik. But if these capabilities are only three-quarters true, the Russian air force will have a formidable aircraft that could complement the Su-57 nicely.
The S-70 Okhotnik could fly out ahead, jam enemy radar, take out air defenders on the ground, and eliminate enemy fighters in air-to-air engagements. If this works according to plan, the Russians have a hit on their hands.
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Author Expertise and Experience
Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood 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. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.