This video, uploaded by the Russian Defence Ministry on Aug. 7, 2019, shows an Okhotnik variant undergoing flight testing.

MOSCOW — The first flight-ready model of Russia’s upgraded S-70 Okhotnik (Hunter) heavy combat drone is on its way to the military for testing, with fielding expected in 2024.

Developed by Chkalov’s Novosibirsk aviation plant in western Siberia — a subsidiary of aircraft specialist Sukhoi Company — the drone is equipped with a flat nozzle to increase its stealth capability. It has a takeoff weight of 20 tons, measures 14 meters long and has a wingspan of 19 meters.

Reports claim the new version can reach speeds up to 1,000 kph.

The new S-70 is equipped with technologies “surpassing a few foreign analogues by a number of parameters,” Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexey Krivoruchko told reporters Wednesday during a visit to the Novosibirsk plant.

A spokesman for the United Aircraft Corporation, which owns Sukhoi, told Defense News that the S-70 is a “promising aviation platform with great potential for the development of a family of unmanned systems of the future.”

The drone is expected to complement Su-57 fighter missions, with one jet able to work in tandem with up to four S-70s, an aviation industry source told state-run news agency Tass. If testing is successful, the drone will enter service in 2024, Krivoruchko said.

The head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, Ruslan Pukhov, told Defense News that by unveiling the drone, Sukhoi has “confirmed its status as the leading Russian design bureau.”

The drone uses a Russian made-engine — the Al-41F1, which is also used on the Su-57 and the Checkmate aircraft — giving it a range of up to 6,000 kilometers, Pukhov added. But he expressed caution about the drone’s future.

“One has to wait and see,” the think tanker said. “Will it turn into a flying robot that will be able to fly long distances and to perform combat operations?”

He recalled the fate of the heavy Skat drone, whose prototype was produced by UAC subsidiary Russian Aircraft Corporation (commonly known as MiG) in 2007 using stealth technology. But in 2012, work on the project stopped due to a lack of interest from the Defence Ministry. The effort resumed in 2018.

Those thoughts were echoed by retired Col. Mikhail Khodoryonok, a senior military analyst for local news site Gazeta.Ru, who told Defense News that the drone “has to prove itself in a combat mission,” possibly in Syria. Khodaryonok also has his doubts about Skat’s future.

Alexander Bratersky is the Russia correspondent at Defense News. He has covered U.S.-Russian relations, NATO and Middle Eastern affairs, and Russian policy in Syria. He previously worked at the Moscow Times and Izvestia as a political reporter, as well as RIA Novosti as a Washington correspondent. He also dabbles in stand-up comedy.

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