- An image of Russia’s new heavy attack stealth drone, the Okhotnik, just leaked.
- The drone looks like the US’s B-2 stealth bomber with a flying wing design that could give it solid stealth and survivability against the US.
- Russia has an ambiguous mission for the drone, which it claims will inform the next generation of Russian fighters.
- Russia’s Su-57, its newest fighter jet, recently appeared with a silhouette of something like the Okhotnik on it, suggesting a connection between this mysterious drone and the future of Russia’s fighter jets.
Russia’s new heavy attack drone, called the Okhotnik (Russian for “hunter”), just made its visual debut as a flying wing stealth platform intended to fight Moscow’s enemies from the air and inform the next generation of jet fighters.
The picture of the Okhotnik, posted on a Russian aviation blog and first reported at Aviation Week, shows a drone on a snowy runway with a flat flying wing design like the B-2 Spirit bomber of the US Air Force.
The B-2 represents the US’s stealthiest plane despite being originally built in the early 1980s, which owes to the flying wing design.
Fighter jets which hit supersonic speeds and maneuver tightly need vertical fins, meaning Russia’s Okhotnik likely places stealth above turning and air-to-air combat.
In July 2018, Russian media quoted a defense industry source as saying the Okhotnik could perform “any combat task in an autonomous regime,” but that the drone would require a human pilot to pull the trigger.
US drones only perform in an air-to-ground role, as they’re subsonic aircraft that would be sitting ducks to enemy fighters.
But the defense industry source claimed the “Okhotnik will become the prototype of the sixth generation fighter jet,” further suggesting some air-to-air role.
Recent pictures of Russia’s Su-57 fighter jet, billed as a stealth fifth-generation answer to the US F-22 and F-35 fighters, showed the manned fighter jet with a flying wing aircraft painted on its vertical stabilizer next to a silhouette of the Su-57.
Again, this seems to suggest a connection between the combat drone and air superiority fighters, though Russia’s own media describes the drone as having a takeoff weight of 20 tons and an airspeed in the high subsonic range.
Russia frequently makes unverified and dubious claims about its combat aircraft. Russia dubbed the Su-57, meant to fight F-22 and F-35 fighters or beat top-end air defenses, “combat proven” after a few days of dropping bombs on militants in Syria who had no anti-air capabilities.
Additionally, a senior scientist working on stealth aircraft in the West told previously Business Insider that Russia’s Su-57 lacks any serious stealth treatment in a few painfully obvious ways.
But the sixth generation of fighter aircraft, or even the true purpose of the current, fifth generation of fighter aircraft, remains an open question. Many top military strategists and planners have floated the possibility of pairing advanced manned fighter jets with swarms of drones or legacy aircraft to act as bomb trucks or decoys.
By incorporating stealth drones into the operational plan for the Su-57, Russia may have considerably complicated the picture for US pilots and military planners who speak as though they have Russia’s jet fighters figured out.
Russia has a number of drones in operation, but typically has shied away from combat drones, as it still uses an affordable fleet of older Sukhoi fighter/bombers to drop bombs in Syria.