Last summer, the world got its first glimpses of a massive, 20-ton stealth drone fighter being developed by Russia when defense industry sources passed them along to the Russian state-owned news outlet TASS.
Though the aircraft (shown above) “has not yet taken full shape, its main features are already known,” a defense official told the newswire.
Since TASS is completely run by the Kremlin, it’s safe to say that the images were ‘leaked’ on purpose.
The defense official noted further:
“First of all, it should be unmanned and capable of performing any combat task in an autonomous regime. In this sense, the stealth drone will become the prototype of the sixth generation fighter jet,’ the source said, adding that the drone will be able to “take off, fulfill its objectives and return to the airfield.”
“However, it will not receive the function of decision-making regarding the use of weapons – this will be decided by a human,” he said.
Now, as LiveJournal now reports, brand-new images of the first prototype of this sixth-gen unmanned reconnaissance-strike drone, nicknamed “Hunter,” have been taken at the airdrome of the Novosibirsk Aviation Plant.
Reports note that designers have been putting the model through testing at the plant since November 2018. Prototype flights have been scheduled for sometime this year.
A second defense expert told the Russian newswire the drone/jet has a top speed of about 621 miles per hour:
The Russian Defense Ministry and the Sukhoi Company signed a contract for developing the 20-ton Okhotnik (Hunter) heavy unmanned strike aircraft in 2011. The drone’s mock-up model was made in 2014. According to unconfirmed reports, composite materials and anti-radar coating were used to create the Okhotnik. The drone is equipped with a reaction-jet propulsion and is supposed to develop a speed of 1000 kilometers per hour, said TASS.
Sam Bendett, a researcher at the CNA Corporation and a member of CNA’s Center for Autonomy and AI, previously told Defense One, “Sounds like Russia wants everything to be included into the new design at once.In reality, they will probably have to compromise, selecting more realistic qualifications for the new aircraft.”
He added: “Most importantly, this will be an expensive endeavor, further pushing Russian designers and the Ministry of Defense to be more selective in approving the final aircraft specs. However, some qualifications, like optional manning, autonomy and some form of artificial intelligence will probably be included.”
In the end, Bendett says, Moscow’s objective may be to move away from manned aircraft altogether.
“Ohotnik is barely flying yet and some time will pass before it becomes an operational variant. Nonetheless, this unmanned aerial vehicle and Russia’s future combat aircraft plans offer a glimpse into Moscow’s thoughts on future warfare,” he noted.
The U.S. military is also testing unmanned drone aircraft.
For instance, the Navy recently selected the MQ-25 aircraft tanker/refuelling drone built by Boeing, which the service plans to use to refuel carrier-based planes at sea.
Also, the U.S. is looking at other designs, including the Kratos XQ-222 Valkyrie, a swarm drone platform for the Air Force, and the Lockheed TR-X, designed to replace the SR-71 spy plane.
The Chinese are also in the combat drone business, with its CH-7 — an apparent clone of a U.S. Navy design, the X-47B, which has since been discontinued.
The CH-7 could also be based on another U.S. design, however, as We Are The Mighty reported:
Some observers suggested the Chinese drone is a sort of copy of the famous Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel, the stealth drone captured by Iran in 2011 and then reverse-engineered by Tehran: according to the information circulating on the Chinese Defense forums, a group of 17 Chinese experts flew to Iran 4 days after…the Sentinel drone had crash landed in Iran during a spy mission, not only to inspect, but also to collect and bring back to China some key components of the RQ-170.