Russia is prepping a new unmanned combat aircraft set to fly later this year. The twenty ton Okhotnik (“Hunter”) unmanned air combat vehicle is as heavy as a manned fighter jet and meant for dangerous, high risk strike and reconnaissance missions. According to the state-owned TASS news agency, the aircraft will fly for the first time sometime in 2018.
Russia lags behind the United States in unmanned aircraft technology but the new Hunter drone could help change that. Development began in October 2011, when the Russian government signed a development deal with the famous Sukhoi Design Bureau. The aircraft is officially designated URBK, Udarno-Razvedyvatelnyi Bespilotnyi Kompleks, or “Strike-Reconnaissance Unmanned Complex.” Sukhoi was supposed to ramp up work on the Hunter after development of the new Sukhoi Su-57 manned fighter was completed, but the fighter has seen repeated delays.
The Hunter is designed as a 20 ton combat aircraft—an impressive size considering as an unmanned aircraft it has no pilot and life support systems. In 2011, it was described as a “sixth generation aircraft” powered by either two non-afterburning Klimov RD-33MK engines or a single engine derived from the engine powering the Su-57. TASS describes the jet as having a single engine and a top speed of 621 miles an hour, well within the subsonic range. The photo above is allegedly of the Hunter drone, and was to the paralay.iboards.ru aviation forum.
According to TASS the basic design was finalized and subjected to ground tests in 2014. The drone has a “flying wing” shape, making it similar to the . The Hunter is also made of composite materials and the exterior features an anti-radar coating. All of this work to make the Hunter invisible to radar means it will store precision-guided bombs and missiles internally, to avoid compromising its radar signal with weapons hanging off the belly and wings.
TASS quotes a Russian military authority as saying the Hunter is meant “destroying enemy air defense systems, communications, command and control posts in situations when the use of aircraft is associated with considerable risks for crews.” This would make Hunter a “day one” asset, meant to handle difficult, dangerous missions at the outset of conflict to clear the way for manned aircraft. Work on the Hunter is being carried out at the Novosibirsk-based Chkalov Aviation Plant. The Hunter is set to start flight trials later this year.
It might be best to take this report with a grain of salt, but we know there is a Hunter program out there and seven years is a reasonable—and even a bit longtimeline for flying a new unmanned aircraft design.