Russia has sped up development of its “Hunter” drone.
First seen in 2019, Hunter is designed to fight alongside Moscow’s fighter and attack jets.
The uncrewed airplane should enter service in 2024.
Russia is pushing its new unmanned combat aerial vehicle out the door and into the hands of the military sooner than expected. The S-70 Okhotnik (“Hunter”) drone will enter service with the Russian Aerospace Force a year earlier than planned, in 2024. That means Hunter could become the first high-performance combat drone designed for large-scale conventional warfare to enter service with any country.
Russian media first spotted the drone in January 2019 as it was performing tests at the Novosibirsk-based Chkalov Aviation Plant. The aircraft resembles a boomerang with a large air intake in the front on the top half of the aircraft, and a shrouded engine nozzle. The famous Sukhoi Design Bureau, makers of Cold War jets and today’s Su-35 Flanker-E and Su-57 Felon fighters, designed the drone.
Tipping the scales at 20 tons, Okhotnik is about as heavy as a two-engine American F-15 Eagle fighter. The drone is designed to carry up to 13,200 pounds of munitions, including air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, in an internal weapons bay. The drone will have a range of 3,240 nautical miles and a top speed of 620 miles an hour.
Okhotnik was originally described as an autonomous drone capable of carrying out missions in support of crewed aircraft. American efforts to develop a “loyal wingman” that can operate alongside crewed fighters led to reports that Okhotnik would follow the same path. Okhotnik can reportedly execute strike missions against important enemy targets, including air defense systems, headquarters units, and others.
Russia has been trying to catch up to the West in the field of autonomous weapon systems, in one case rushing the Uran-9 unmanned ground vehicle drone into combat in Syria. Uran-9 performed badly in real-world operational conditions, though the Russians did learn important lessons.
The U.S., as Forbes points out, has been using armed drones since the attacks on September 11, 2001, but has proceeded haltingly in developing large, heavily armed drones like Okhotnik. Although the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone has been in service since the 2010s, it's optimized for use in low-intensity conflict and against insurgencies. Against modern air defenses fielded by modern armies, Reaper would probably be shot down in droves.
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