While Europeans are arguing over the SCAF program, Russia, which already has a strategic advantage thanks to its hypersonic weapons, is seeking to widen the gap with its stealth fighter UAV program.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has reportedly ordered three new prototypes of the UCAV S-70 Okhotnik, which will serve as a wing drone for the fifth-generation fighter, the SU-57, but can also be operated from the ground. The NAPO plant in Novosibirsk, known for the production of the front-line Su-24 and Su-34 bombers, would be in charge of their production. The tests could start in 2022 and continue until 2023.
The second prototype would incorporate modifications to its design to make it even more stealthy (buried engine and sawtooth nozzle exit like the American B-2 Spirit and Chinese H-20 stealth bombers), its flight controls, as well as its sensors associated with its AI (reconnaissance, designation, communication) to enable it to evolve, escape missile launches, and strike its targets autonomously. These changes are based on the lessons learned from tests of the first prototype, which began in the summer of 2019. After validation of these modifications, the third and fourth prototypes would have a configuration similar to that of the production models and would be designed to test weapon systems and man/machine collaborative combat (MUM/T) systems. However, the first prototype would continue testing. Last December, the RIA Novosti agency quoting a military source had evoked bombing tests on the test range of Ashuluk near the Caspian Sea, using a 500 kg FAB-500 M-62 bomb. Bombings on targets whose coordinates would be known in advance. Since August 2020, the Ashuluk site has deployed several anti-UAV systems designed to simulate highly contested airspaces (S-400, Pantsir S1, offensive jamming ...).
Last summer, the OAK consortium saw its delivery schedule advanced by 12 months by the Kremlin to accelerate the aircraft's production and deployment from 2024. The 20-ton UAV designed by Sukhoi from 2011, with a wingspan equivalent to that of a Mig-29, has been specified to carry six metric tons of weapons in two separate bunkers more than 4,000 kilometers away. These armaments would be common to those of the Su-57, including the famous miniaturized version of the hypersonic missile KH-47M2 Khinjal. In accordance with the speech by Defense Minister S. Shoigu on January 29, the Okhotnik will participate in the accelerated modernization of the Russian air fleet to enable it to penetrate NATO's air defenses. The S-70s could thus integrate 2 to 3 squadrons of Su-57s to extend their radar detection range. But the role of the S-70 could also evolve towards that of an interceptor in order to neutralize not only opposing combat aircraft but also reconnaissance platforms, command aircraft, or tankers, thus justifying the integration of short- and medium-range missiles (R73/74, R77). Indeed, since the beginning of the program, the electronics group KRET has been seeking to capitalize on the UCAV the avionics solutions developed on the Su-35, the electronic warfare solutions using DRFM technology, and part of the radar system developed for the Su-57. At MAKS 2015, KRET presented a model of UCAV integrating a radar equipped with a front edge antenna in X-band, as well as several others in L-band spread over the whole aircraft, and intended to detect stealth platforms and AEW aircraft. All antennas are equipped with active modules. In addition, the IRST 101 KS-V of the Su-57, developed by the optronics company UOMZ, would allow the drone to approach and designate its target discreetly with a passive sensor. Advances in stealth and IRST techniques are preparing for the return of dogfighting. As several AFRL laboratory simulations have shown, the use of AI by UCAVs makes it possible to automate the analysis of adverse vulnerabilities, the sequence of maneuvers and combat tactics at a pace that no pilot can sustain during a confrontation. In short, the Okhotnik could increase the strike capabilities of the Russian air force tenfold, in addition to the 76 Su-57 expected in 2027, and above all initiate a much more offensive posture.
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