Last July, a single grainy image of Russia’s long-anticipated Okhotnik (Hunter) unmanned combat aerial vehicle hit the web, prompting a flurry of headlines speculating about the 20-ton drone’s potential as a low-observability platform that could offer the Russian military greater deep-penetration capabilities with their legacy bombers.
To give an arguably overly simplistic explanation of why Russia desperately needs a stealth combat platform, the Hunter UCAV would be used to enter contested airspace and engage anti-air assets (among other targets) to clear a path for the rest of Russia’s non-stealth aircraft. The United States leverages this same strategy when battle planning for war against nations with formidable air defenses. However, the U.S. relies on stealth bombers and fighters like the B-2 Spirit and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to take down enemy defenses and create a more permissible environment for other aircraft. With Russia’s “stealth” Su-57 all but dead in the water, the nation is once again without a reliable means of force projection inside contested air space.
Enter 20 tons’ worth of unmanned aerial vehicle: the Hunter. With a design that’s more than mildly reminiscent of Northrop Grumman’s technology demonstrator X-47B or Lockheed Martin’s RQ-170 Sentinel, this stealthy-looking drone might be just what Russia needs to stand and swing in regions ripe with anti-air assets, but then…maybe not.