S-70 Makes Debut Flight as NAPO Offers Reassurances on Su-34

 - June 3, 2019, 8:20 AM
If an order for the S-70 UCAV is made by the MoD, production of the aircraft could take place at the NAPO facility, replacing that of the Su-34 fighter (pictured).

The Sukhoi S-70/Okhotnik-B unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) took to the air for the first time on May 25, carrying out its first flight from the aerodrome of the OEM’s Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Association (NAPO) branch. Local news agencies reported that although the flight was short, it enabled United Aircraft Corporation’s NAPO division to claim that the type’s flight trials have commenced. Earlier in May, the S-70 appeared on the static line alongside other aircraft at the Valery Chkalov State Flight Test Center (GLITs) at Akhtubinsk in southern Russia during a visit by President Vladimir Putin.

According to the customer’s official presentation at ARMY’2017, the list of research and development programs for UCAVs includes the Korsar, Inokhodets/Orion, and Altius-O in addition to the S-70. The latter appears to be the largest of all the UAVs being funded by the Russian defense ministry that are at a later stage of development.

According to images that appeared online in January, the S-70 has a height of some 2.8 to 3 meters (9.2-9.8 feet) and length of 13 to 14 meters (42.7-45.9 feet). Furthermore, satellite images taken during Putin’s visit to GLITs also show the S-70 to be a flying wing design with a surface of some 100 square meters.

Commencement of the S-70 flight trials coincided with speculation surrounding the future of NAPO, following media reports that the Su-34 fighter production run that takes place there may be coming to an end. Head of industry within the Novosibirsk administration, Aleksandr Serov, confirmed to a municipality session on May 22 that, since 2006 when the type entered serial production, it has been a major contributor to NAPO’s manufacturing program, although he further acknowledged that a drop in defense orders had been expected and openly discussed for a while.

He further hinted at “optimization” of the workforce at this and other manufacturing sites in the city; however, he added that cessation of Su-34 manufacturing line in Novosibirsk “is not at issue. “Neither the Su-34 production transfer nor the NAPO closing down is on the agenda,” he said.

Upon completion of seven prototypes and pre-production aircraft at the turn of the century, in 2008 the plant won a Russian defense ministry contract for an initial production batch of 32 serially made Su-34s. Four years later this was followed by a second contract for 92 aircraft, part of a requirement for 150-200 Su-34s to replace all aging Su-24s by 2020. Officially, the Su-34 was accepted into service in March 2014, and although from 2014 to 2017, NAPO worked to capacity producing 16 to 18 Su-34s annually, in 2018 this fell to just 12.

As of the last shipment of 2018, the number of aircraft completed under the 2012 order came to 80, and under all other contracts to 123. No export orders for the type have been placed, so NAPO may in part or completely transfer to production of the S-70 if it is ordered by the MoD. It is believed that manufacturing costs of the Okhotnik-B would be akin to those of the Su-34.