The world’s first space drone? Russian Historian Says S-70 ‘Hunter’ Can Reach Outer Space; Skeptical American experts

Russia’s S-70 Okhotnik unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), which can also operate as a ‘wingman’ for the Su-57 fighter, is Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled and can reach outer space when equipped with suitable motors.

The United States attempted to develop UCAVs with similar performance characteristics, but abandoned the project after its engineers were unable to overcome technical hurdles. This was according to the military historian and director of the Museum of the Air Defense Forces Yuri Knutov, Izvestia informed.

The S-70 Okhotnik is powered by an AL-31 turbojet engine and is expected to fly at 1,000 kilometers per hour and with a range of 6,000 kilometers.

It is equipped with electro-optical targets, radio and “other types” of reconnaissance equipment, with its internal bays carrying a payload of 2.8 tons of weapons.

The new S-70B with the flat exhaust nozzle

A military historian calls it a space drone

“It has many elements of a sixth generation drone. In addition to low visibility and supersonic speed, it can reach high altitudes and, in the future, into outer space. However, it depends on the engines that still need to be created,” said the expert, Knutov said.

Knutov also directly hinted at the intended mission profiles of the Su-57, the Okhotnik, and their loyal wingmates/manned-unmanned team.

“The Su-57 can control a swarm of Okhotnik drones, and this combination opens up great opportunities to solve strategic combat missions. The ‘Hunter’ is made in the same way as the Su-57. And in Ukraine, Su-57 planes solved combat missions and returned unnoticed,” Knutov added.

This indicates that the Su-57 and Okhotnik’s crew would destroy large strategic targets such as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) command centers and civil-military targets or pave the way for large bombers such as the Tupolev Tu-160. , Tu-22 or MiG. -31 that can carry the Kh-101 cruise missile or the Kinzhal hypersonic missile to release its payload.

Vladimir Artyakov, first deputy director general of the Rostec State Corporation, boasted that none of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries have a UCAV system that can match the Okhotnik.

Su-57, S-70 Fighter-Dron Teaming Becomes a Reality

The drone has progressed rapidly, with a version that has a flatter nozzle presented in December 2021 and the announcement to enter series production by 2023. Rostec CEO sergei chemezov gave the information to President Vladimir Putin. Chemezov added that a new ground control post for the drone was being developed, indicating that the drone could start reaching Russian Air Force (or Voenno-vozdushnye sily Rossii, VVS) units by 2024.

The experimental prototype made its first flight on August 3, 2019, which lasted more than 20 minutes. A few months later a 30-minute flight alongside the Su-57 fighter was reported. In December 2020, RIA Novosti said that Okhotnik conducted simulated tests using infrared (IR) and radar-seeking air-to-air missiles to test the UCAV’s fire control systems at the 185 Combat Application and Training Center in Ashuluk.

He conducted his first live-fire test by launching unguided bombs at a target at the Ashuluk training camp near the Caspian Sea, according to a January 2021 report.

The Su-57 and an earlier version of the S-70 Okhotnik flying together
The Su-57 and an earlier version of the S-70 Okhotnik flying together

On May 28, RIA Novosti reported a “guided missile firing test series”, which Janes Defense concluded was the Kh-59MK2 standoff cruise missile. But on June 9 and July 27, developments related to the Su-57 indicated that Russia was progressing rapidly toward possessing an operational manned and unmanned teaming capability.

RIA Novosti on June 9 reported four Su-57s being used in the ongoing Special Military Operation (SMO) in Ukraine in what appeared to be a Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) operation.

The quartet was “linked into a single information network to destroy air defense systems through automatic communication, data transmission, navigation and real-time identification systems. The low radar visibility of the Su-57 was also confirmed,” the article said.

Andrey Yelchaninov, deputy chairman of the Russian Military-Industrial Commission board, later said in a separate interview that the planes and drones could interact “not only with each other, but also in various types of combat formations.” TASSon July 27, it reported that a two-seat variant of the Su-57 will be developed to control a swarm of Okhotnik combat drones “in network-centric interactions to strike air and ground targets.”

The June 9 operation indicates that it is unlikely that the Su-57 will not be used for routine tactical missions, as most air-to-air and air-to-ground missions are likely to be carried out by Su-30s and Their. -35. Initially at least, its mission profile would involve taking out enemy fighters from beyond visual range with missiles like the Vympel R-77 and SEAD or Destruction of Enemy Air Defense (DEAD) operations.

Even reports on the Okhotnik test on May 28 said that the platform could “effectively hit small-sized cloaked targets with missiles at different times of the day.”

While there is no evidence that the Su-57 was used in the GOS, if true, it must have been done to freeze certain operational procedures and check the performance of its components such as sensors and data link/transmission. The active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

Wait for evidence before celebrating

An American expert on drones and Russian military technology, while skeptical of the S-70 Okhotnik’s capability in outer space, said it was originally designed as an “air defense penetrator.”

Therefore, the Su-57 and S-70 equipment would be employed first in SEAD, and the DEAD roles are largely confirmed. This is also because the US concepts of loyalist members working with F-35s show how to eliminate dense air defenses by employing UAVs for ISR, decoy, and limited weapons release roles.

“The S-70’s outer space flight capability comes from people not directly involved with the project and should therefore be taken with a grain of salt. Many of its proposed roles are based on an air defense penetration role for which it was originally designed,” the US expert said while speaking to the EurAsian Times.

As for the ability to fly in outer space, which can be assumed to be in the stratosphere (around 50 kilometers high), the US military analyst said that the drone removes the limitations placed on human physiology when operating. at those altitudes.

“Getting the pilot out simplifies the operation to that level, but again, we need to see evidence of at least one of those tests before we can conclude that it’s possible,” he added.

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