Key point: Stealth drones are a major new technology that every major power is racing to develop.
Russia’s new S-70 “Okhotnik-B” heavy stealth unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has flown for the first time alongside the Su-57 fifth-generation stealth fighter, highlighting a combat support role intended to expand the Su-57’s capabilities while shoring up its shortcomings.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced that the joint flight took place earlier this week: “As part of the ongoing test program, the Okhotnik drone performed a flight in the automated mode in its full configuration, entering the airborne alert area.” The Defense Ministry statement was accompanied by a one-minute clip of a Su-57 and B-2 shaped Okhotnik drone flying side-by-side in several close-up shots. Though the video itself is fairly nondescript, the statement sheds further light on the purpose of the flight: the 30-minute exercise was intended to “broaden the [Su-57] fighter’s radar coverage and to provide target acquisition for employing air-launched weapons.”
A defense industry source has told TASS state news that this is the first of several, increasingly complex exercises meant to test and refine Okhotnik’s ability to execute tasks in a “partially autonomous mode.” Sukhoi engineers are also reportedly evaluating the feasibility of fully autonomous flight routines from takeoff to landing.
Formally unveiled at the ARMY-2019 exhibition held outside Moscow earlier this summer, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov told Russian state news that the first, serially-produced S-70 units will enter service in 2025. The Okhotnik drone is being designed with a substantial stealth component, featuring composite surfaces coated with radar-absorbent materials. At the same time, it boasts a jet fighter-grade AL-31F or AL-41F engine that supports a maximum speed of up to 1,000 km/h.