The Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik heavy unmanned combat aerial vehicle may one day become a full-fledged replacement for all sorts of combat aircraft, including the latest generation of Russian fighter jets, Izvestia has reported, citing the military and a military aircraft specialist monitoring recent trends.
A spokesperson from Russia’s defence ministry told the newspaper that the aerospace forces planned to create a detachment of Okhotniks in the western and southern military districts by 2024.
The stealthy UAVs, which feature composite materials and stealth coatings, have been designed to slip past enemy radar systems with an arsenal of up to 2.8 tonnes of arms, including cruise missiles, precision bombs, and air-to-air weapons, onboard, replacing manned aircraft entirely in particularly dangerous situations.
The defence ministry began flight testing the Okhotnik in August.
“At its core, the Okhotnik is a drone for a major war,” Anton Lavrov, a military observer specialising in military aircraft, explained.
According to the analyst, the S-70 was specifically designed to be used to break through dense air defences, including the most modern anti-aircraft missile systems and even enemy fighters. “The rest of our strike systems presently being developed by our military industries are not suitable for use in breaking through air defences and operating against serious adversaries,” Lavrov explained.
In other words, the Okhotnik can genuinely become a full-fledged replacement for combat aircraft in some situations, the analyst believes.
Replace or Complement?
Of course, the idea of the drone ‘replacing’ fighters may be bit of an overstatement. Last month, Russia’s defence ministry released footage of the Okhotnik operating alongside a Su-30SM fighter jet, with reports going back to at least 2017 indicating that the Okhotnik was being designed from early on to fly alongside the Su-57, and to enjoy electronic connectivity and data sharing capabilities. In other words, the S-30 may become an autonomous ‘wingman’, rather than a full-fledged ‘replacement’ for manned designs, at least in the coming decades.
Russia's Defense Ministry @mod_russia has released video footage of the first flight of its advanced Okhotnik combat drone accompanied by a Su-30SM fighter. The maiden flight of Okhotnik, which lasted over 20 minutes, took place earlier in August #Russia #defense pic.twitter.com/yB9h0QwKtb— Sputnik Insight (@Sputnik_Insight) 16 августа 2019 г.
The Pentagon is known to be working on a similar initiative. Earlier this year, officials revealed that both Lockheed Martin and Boeing were looking to incorporate drones as ‘sidekicks’ to its F-35 and F-15EX fighters under the so-called ‘Skyborg’ programme.
China reportedly has a similar programme in the works with its LJ-1 robotic wingman design, with that drone also said to be capable of being used as an explosive-packed kamikaze.