General Director of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, Yury Slyusar, has pledged that deliveries of the company’s new S-70 Okhotnik unmanned stealth jet to the Russian military will begin in 2024. The aircraft is being developed under the Udarno-Razvedyvatelnyi Bespilotnyi Kompleks (Strike-Reconnaissance Unmanned Complex), with development having commenced in 2011 under orders from the defence ministry. That year notably saw one of the United States’ most advanced stealth drones, the CIA’s RQ-170, brought down by electronic warfare over Iran - with Russia, China and North Korea thought to have benefitted from information on the design shared by the Iranians. Director Slyusar described the S-70 as as an “attack heavy drone with unprecedented capabilities, having the largest combat flight range, the widest range of weapons [and] the broadest range of equipment.”

The new delivery timeline for the S-70 was announced on August 3rd, with serial production previously expected to begin only in 2025. This follows the aircraft’s unveiling in 2018, which is by far the country’s most ambitious unmanned combat aircraft program so far and appears to be intended to keep up with developments in China and the United States - which are currently competing neck to neck as the two undisputed world leaders in the field. China in 2019 unveiled new variants of the Dark Sword unmanned stealth bomber and new hypersonic surveillance drones, and is currently working on an unmanned sixth generation fighter under the Dark Sword program. The move by Russia to accelerate its own high end drone program follows calls by the defence ministry to accelerate work, with the new aircraft expected serve in a complementary role to the new Su-57 stealth fighter. The Su-57 is also being tested for unmanned flight, as Russia continues to invest heavily in artificial intelligence which could expand the possibilities for unmanned combat aircraft considerably.

Acceleration of the S-70 program notably follows moves by the Kremlin to escalate production of the Su-57 next generation fighter in 2019, with an order for 76 fighters placed in July of that year. The new drone is expected to be able to operate either independently or as a ‘loyal wingman’ to the Su-57 - with similar ‘wingman’ drones being developed in China and the United States to support their own next generation fighters. The S-70 is expected to be considerably more stealthy than the Su-57, allowing it to penetrate deeper into enemy territory with a lower risk. It will deploy powerful sensors to provide targeting information to longer ranged weapons launched by the Su-57 - such as its Kh-47M2-derived hypersonic ballistic missile which is expected to have a range of up to 2000km. The S-70 is expected to be able operate independently as an unmanned strike fighter, possibly in separate variants, although it remains uncertain whether it will be able to operate alongside fighters other than the Su-57 such as the lighter Su-35 and MiG-35 platforms.

Military Watch Magazine