The Russian Air Force has taken a bold step in the field of military aviation using the “Loyal Wingman” concept. This approach involves a state-of-the-art stealth fighter, the Su-57, controlling a drone, the Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-B (Hunter).
Equipped with up to four S-70s, the Su-57 gains the ability to stay out of range of enemy air defense systems and engage heavy combat drones.
Su-57 alongside S-70 Okhotnik in combat
According to Russian reports, the Su-57 can link up with the Okhotnik drone at a distance of more than 900 miles, an amazing capability if true. This advance would be a significant milestone for the Okhotnik, which seeks to play a key role in 21st-century warfare, acting as a force multiplier in air operations.
Thanks to its ability to fly into enemy airspace and neutralize defenses or block them, the Okhotnik paves the way for future attacks by the Su-57. Both aircraft feature stealthy characteristics, making them even more deadly.
The Su-57 fighter jet has reportedly been used in combat in Ukraine, while its two-seat variant is being developed to control the S-70B Okhotnik combat drones in network-centric operations.
The Okhotnik drone, which has been frozen in its final production variant, has undergone simulated and live weapons firings. In these tests, it successfully launched air-to-air missiles, including the Kh-59MK2 standoff cruise missile, which can also be fired from the Su-57.
The drone demonstrated its fire-control systems and the ability to hit small-sized camouflaged targets precisely. The S-70B variant is expected to begin serial production by 2023 and will be deployed to Russian Aerospace Forces units by mid-2024. It has undergone a design correction by introducing a flat exhaust nozzle, addressing concerns about stealth.
Russia aims to establish a wingman capability by integrating the Su-57 and Okhotnik drones, enabling them to operate as a networked force and engage both aerial and ground targets. These developments highlight Russia’s focus on network-centric warfare and data-linking capabilities, similar to concepts pursued by the United States and India.
The Okhotnik drone will also provide targeting data for the Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile from the under-construction amphibious assault ship ‘Mitrofan Moskalenko,’ which will become the flagship of the Black Sea fleet.
S-70 Okhotnik: A revolutionary weapon
The link between the Su-57 and the Okhotnik is achieved through a sophisticated artificial intelligence system that enables the Loyal Wingman capability. This AI-based data link system uses parallel channels for noise-immune coding, increasing the range of information transfer.
According to Rostec, the Russian defense contractor, this technology is based on the simultaneous transmission of data in all directions, be it air-to-ground or air-to-air.
The design of the S-70 Okhotnik is based on the flying wing concept inspired by the American B-2 bomber. This combat drone is equipped with a powerful Saturn AL-41F1 turbofan engine, which provides a top speed of 620 miles per hour.
In addition, its advanced radar and electronic warfare system give it intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, allowing it to track targets at distances of up to 400 miles.
A Deadly and Adaptable Weapon
The S-70 Okhotnik’s arsenal includes R-73 or R-77 air-to-air missiles and a 30mm close combat cannon. Furthermore, it is expected to be equipped with precision-guided munitions for ground attacks. Despite its flying wing shape, the Okhotnik demonstrates surprising maneuverability, thanks to its turbofan engine and advanced avionics, making it a tough target to take down.
Okhotnik’s stealth technology reduces its radar signature by using special coatings that absorb and deflect radar waves. Additionally, its weapons are housed in internal compartments, further improving its stealth and minimizing its cross section on the radar.