The Russian military’s Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-B – Russian for Hunter – may finally have been employed in test flights earlier this year. That could serve to dispel myths that the stealth heavy unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), which was jointly developed by Sukhoi and Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG as a sixth-generation aircraft project, has remained little more than vaporware.
The recent tests also suggest that it isn’t exactly an ostrich either – as in flightless. Yet, it is believed that the Kremlin has still managed to produce just two prototypes and it could be years before the program enters service.
A Drone Wingman
The Okhotnik is in the same class of drones as the Dassault nEUROn and Boeing Loyal Wingman, which are now being developed to augment the capabilities of manned aircraft, notably fifth-generation and even sixth-generation stealth fighters. Such UCAVs could also significantly extend the sensor and weapons range of manned aircraft.
The 20-ton Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik drone is powered by an AL-31 turbojet engine – the same used on the Sukhoi Su-27 fighter – while it can reach a top speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour (621 mph), with a range of 6,000 km (3,728 miles). The large drone is equipped with electro-optical targeting and radio, as well as other types of reconnaissance equipment. It has a pair of internal bays that can carry up to 2.8 tons of weapons.
Tests Continue on S-70
It was in July that an S-70 was spotted flying in formation with a MiG-29 (NATO reporting name Fulcrum) fighter. A video that has circulated on social media purports to show the wing-shaped drone flying ahead of the Russian fighter – but neither the location nor the date of the video has been confirmed.
That was just one of a handful of flights involving the S-70.
The UCAV conducted its debut flight on August 3, 2019, which lasted slightly more than 20 minutes under an operator’s control. Less than two months later, the drone took part in a second test flight that lasted more than 30 minutes, where the drone accompanied a Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet. During that particular flight, the drone maneuvered in the air in automated mode at an altitude of around 1,600 meters.
It Can Fly, But Can Russia Build It?
Even as these flights have demonstrated the capabilities of the prototypes, it could be years (or longer) until the Kremlin is able to build a fleet of these aircraft. At issue are the crippling sanctions imposed on Moscow for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Those are unlikely to be lifted soon.
As previously reported, Russia has struggled to acquire the computer chips and other advanced components for much of its military equipment – and the problem was reportedly so bad earlier last year that microchips from refrigerators and dishwashers were repurposed and used in some tanks and armored vehicles.
The advanced artificial intelligence (AI) that is required with such a drone is significantly more advanced than what Russia may ever be able to produce domestically.
“Russia is missing just about every electronic component they need,” explained technology industry analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics.
“Two-thirds came from the U.S., one-third from Europe,” Entner told 19FortyFive last year. “Microprocessors, RAM, you name it. Russian military equipment – planes, tanks, drones, etc. – have western components and parts in it.”
That fact could clip the wings of this hunter – so maybe, an ostrich is an apt comparison.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.