Russia’s ministry of defense has released a short video showing the Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik (hunter) unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) undertaking what was likely to be its first true flight. The video confirms the aircraft’s configuration in detail and also permits some comparisons with other similar types.
The Okhotnik program has been ongoing since 2012, and its flying-wing configuration first came to public attention when a blurred photograph of a prototype appeared on the internet. In January 2019, in what appeared to be a staged “leak," a series of photos appeared of an S-70 being towed around the airfield of the Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Association (Russian acronym NAPO). A first flight was reported there on May 25, but this may have been a short, straight-line hop along the runway. The official first flight occurred on August 3, lasting for more than 20 minutes and reaching an altitude of 600 meters (1,970 feet) during the course of a number of circuits.
No location has been revealed for the flight in the video, but on May 16 a prototype was at the Valery Chkalov State Flight Test Center (GLITs) at Akhtubinsk, where it was presented to President Vladimir Putin. At around this time, it was photographed outside at Akhtubinsk by a satellite, and it is most likely that the official first flight was conducted from there. In this photograph, the UCAV is wearing a striking new camouflage pattern, as also seen in the video. Apart from the camouflage and the addition of two large instrumented air data booms for tests, the aircraft appears to exhibit no major changes between the recent images and those from January.
Video Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense
Okhotnik is a large, 20-tonne UCAV, broadly similar in size and weight to the Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAV demonstrator. It has a large internal volume for fuel and weapons, although Russian authorities have described it as an ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) platform. There is some evidence to suggest that it is intended to operate alongside the Sukhoi Su-57 fighter, a development example of which (side number 053) was seen carrying Su-57 and S-70 silhouettes on its fins.
The S-70 exhibits typical low-observable features, including cropped wingtips as first seen on the Lockheed F-117. However, the tailpipe for the engine—believed to be a variant of the Saturn AL-41F that powers the Su-35S and Su-57—is left unshrouded, with a detrimental effect on radar and infrared signatures. This could be just an expedient measure to allow flight-testing to begin, as is also likely to be the case concerning the conspicuous and un-stealthy secondary intakes and antenna fairings located around the airframe.