As drones continue to hog the global limelight, Russia’s most advanced and stealthy S-70 Hunter UAVs were spotted in newly extracted satellite imagery. These UCAVs are currently believed to be undergoing experimental testing.
The latest Google Earth satellite image has revealed that two prototypes of Russia’s S-70 Hunter drones were spotted together at the 929th State Flight Test Center located in the Astrakhan Oblast of the Russian Federation.
The two drones were rolled out of the hangar at the Airfield of State Flight Test Center sometime in October 2022.
The image is significant as the newest stealthy prototype of the S-70 Hunter-B drone stands next to the prototype. The two drones could be seen with a visible difference in design, as the second one (on the right) has a flat nozzle and displays a stealthier design compared to the first (on the left), which has a round nozzle.
In December last year, Russia unveiled a new stealthy prototype that featured a stealthier nozzle configuration which is said to increase the drone’s low observability and combat efficiency.
At the time, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that all evaluations would be completed by 2022 and an order from the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) would be placed.
In August 2020, the Russian Defense Ministry reportedly asked the manufacturer of this drone, United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), to expedite the work and move past the “experimental design work.” Russian officials hope to have the S-70 Hunter-B combat drone enter serial production in 2023.
“The first flying prototype was rolled out in 2021, and we will begin serial-producing and delivering it to the Defense Ministry in 2023,” Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov said during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “A new ground control post is being created for the drone,” he said.
The appearance of the two prototypes at the 929th State Flight Test Center is also significant. This unit is tasked with carrying out the entire cycle of RDT&E (research, development, testing, and evaluation) for all varieties of military aircraft. That includes certifying the readiness of unmanned air systems and armaments.
Local Russian language media was quick to assert that the second and final stealthy prototype of the S-70 signaled a readiness for mass production.
“It is worth noting that the second copy of the S-70 is already equipped with a flat nozzle, and thus the ‘Hunter’ takes on its final form in anticipation of mass production,” a Russian news portal that extensively covers the war stated.
What Do We Know About Russian Hunter-B UCAVs?
After its first flight in 2019, the Russian military made this enormous combat drone public. However, unofficial images had already started to circulate on social media. Since then, only a small amount of information regarding the design and how it was created and supporting visuals have been made public.
The production versions of the Okhotnik are anticipated to eventually function as semi-autonomous “loyal wingmen” networked with the Su-57 Felons.
One of the unique features of this drone is its mammoth size, bigger than the American Predator and Reaper drones. According to some observations, the wingspan of the drone and the Felon have little difference in size.
On December 14, the Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Association, or NAPO, in southwest Siberia, displayed the revolutionary flying-wing UCAV. In this location, drones made for the Sukhoi Design Bureau are produced. Alexei Krivoruchko, the then deputy defense minister of Russia, attended the debut of this UCAV.
At the time, Krivoruchko said, “The roll-out of the UAV marks the completion of the assembly of the product as a whole, equipping it with all the necessary onboard equipment by the requirements for the aircraft, and the transition to complex ground tests to prepare for the first flight.”
To that end, the drone conducted a precision strike test earlier this year. An industry source informed the Russian agency RIA Novosti that during the test campaign, the drone deployed various air-to-surface missiles similar to those used by the fifth-generation Su-57 fighter to strike small, camouflaged targets at different hours of the day in any weather.
Even though the details about the drone are scarce, the S-70 Okhotnik drone is expected to travel at a speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour and have a range of 6,000 kilometers, thanks to an AL-31 turbojet engine.
It has electro-optical targeting, radio, and “other forms of reconnaissance equipment,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Up to 2.8 tons of weapons can fit inside its two internal bays.
While Russia does want the UCAV to enter production at the earliest, the serial production would take time due to the international sanctions on Russia’s defense industry.