The Russian Su-70 Okhotnik-B (Hunter) unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), developed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau, has made its maiden flight on Saturday, August 3rd. 2019. The news released by the Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday, according to Russian Tass news agency. No photos were released at the time of publication.

According to a Russian Ministry of Defense release, “The first flight took place at 12.20 Moscow time and lasted for over 20 minutes.” This first flight was designed to test the UCAV’s takeoff and landing capabilities. Okhotnik-B was controlled by a human operator throughout the flight, making several circles around the airfield at an altitude of 600 meters and then successfully landed. According to Tass news agency, quoting an unnamed industry source, more flights are scheduled this year to open the drone’s flight envelope and test its autonomous control capabilities levels. These could include full autonomous flight, from takeoff to landing.

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[wlm_ismember]Okhotnik-B is a 20-ton stealthy UCAV designed in a ‘flying wing’ scheme.  It is made of composite materials covered with a radar-absorbent coating. Designed for armed-Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) role, the drone uses sophisticated reconnaissance systems along with weapons stored in internal weapons bays. The drone has swept wings blended with the body, with a span of about 15.24 meter (50 ft). It is powered by a single jet engine thought to be a version of the AL-41F1S 3D thrust-vectoring turbofan manufactured by NPO Saturn. This type of engine also powers the latest manned fighter aircraft of the Russian Air Force – the Su-57 and Su-35. The drone has a nose radome that could store sensors such as radar, although radars used in stealth aircraft are often blended in various elements in the winds and body. It also shows various fairings for sensors on the fuselage.

The Russian ministry of defense intends to test the Su-70 as a companion to Su-57 fifth-generation fighters in manned-unmanned teaming. Photo: Alexei Karpulev

This maiden flight is the first step in an ambitious plan to introduce new capabilities in the future, where such UCAVs could be operated independently, or as part of a manned-unmanned task force by late-2020s. First unveiled in July 2017 and then, the drone was shown again in November 2018. Okhotnik-B (Hunter) is designed as a fully autonomous platform, that will employ an advanced artificial intelligence (AI) suite. With such autonomous capability, it was suggested to be able to fly as an unmanned companion (loyal wingman) with Su-57 fighters. Nevertheless, the current configuration is likely controlled by a human operator, a flight mode to be reserved for backup in the future.

The tail symbols indicate that this Su-57, tail number 053, is part of the flight testing of Okhotnik-B. The photo was taken at the flight test center at Zhukovsky, near Moscow. The blade antenna behind the canopy is suggested to be part of the special communications complex prepared for this test. Photo: Michael Polyakov

The drone is partially based on earlier developments of the Mikoyan Skat by the MiG design bureau, unveiled as a mockup in 2007. It also includes 5th Generation fighter technologies implemented by Sukhoi in the development of the Sukhoi Su-57 fighter jet.

The efficiency of the low-observable capability of Okhotnik-B has been questioned by western analysts, particularly for air intake and exhaust elements.

This satellite picture of the Chkalov State Flight Test Centre was taken during the presidential visit in May 2019, showing the S-70 Okhotnik-B drone along with other Sukhoi designed fighter planes.

[/wlm_ismember]The drone is being tested at the Chkalov State Flight Test Centre, near Akhtubinsk in the Astrakhan Region, where Su-57 fighters were also tested. In May 2019 the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, visited the center and viewed the Okhotnik-B, along with other drones, manned aircraft, and air defense systems. The Chkalov Centre is the largest test center of Russia’s Aerospace Forces.

Many inlets and uncovered engine exhaust showing in this rear view of the Russian Su-70 UCAV indicate the Russian design is not as stealth-oriented as its US and European counterparts.