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article imageOp-Ed: Russia’s sixth gen S70 UAV fighter is trickier than it looks

By Paul Wallis     Jan 13, 2020 in Technology
Moscow - The announcement of the new Russian unmanned Sukhoi S70 sixth generation fighter includes a few stings. This machine is designed as a supersonic stealth plane, with a lot of hardware and hard points.
The S70 Okhotnik ("Hunter") is a stealth UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and it’s big. This is no paper dart design. It’s a 44 ton monster fully loaded, and a flying wing design. It’s designed to be almost invisible to radar and targeting systems, and with a few minor adjustments, it would be pretty good, even compared to the American F117 Nighthawk, which is one of its direct opponents.
I think we can lose the “drone” terminology with this class of plane. Fighter capabilities are far more complex. This is clearly a fly-by-wire operator, and with this sort of real time combat responsive fighting capacity it’s not a drone in practice, either.
Russia also says it’s designed to fight F22s and F35s, which seems to meet any likely threat assessment for the Russians. The specifications for the S70 aren’t 100% clear for both security and developmental reasons, but the basic specs seem to fit the fighting UAV/ wingman UAV profile credibly enough. The S70 is believed to be designed to work with the Sukhoi S57, another new generation plane, so this is hardly a flying samovar we’re talking about.
Careful what you sneer at, guys
There’s been a certain amount of sneering at some features on this vehicle. The flying wing, no tail, exposed engine exhaust, etc. have all been mentioned. The trouble with the sneers is that these are all easily manageable issues, not real problems. Simply enclosing the exhaust ends one issue, and fly-by-wire deals with no-tail flying wing dynamics. At an estimated 1000kmh, that means it MUST have good flight management.
The overall flying wing, as a matter of fact, is very good indeed. It’s a smooth design, nothing sticking out. For targeting systems it’d be like Teflon. By the way, while on the subject, that’s no dumbass bit of engineering, either. Good production values, too. You could calibrate the surface with a flatiron, so it’s good for maintenance purposes, too.
…Now the tricky bit
Russia has been making a point of new tech in its military. That tech includes the new class of hypersonic missiles, which President Putin made a point of mentioning were superior weapons, impossible to intercept, etc. This one-upmanship, however, when applied to air superiority for incoming generations of aircraft, is much more than a mere jibe. It’s a very significant challenge.
Russia is rather obviously rubbing America’s nose in its endlessly convoluted, cost-heavy, staggeringly complicated military tech neuroses. The F35. which I’ve been calling a “flying credit card” for some time, despite the fact it has a few upsides, is a case in point. America and allies have been sweating over this thing for so long.
F35 is a sixth generation fighter which has had everything but actual psychologists working on it. The psychs should perhaps have been working on the military economics and logic of that plane, not the plane. Sixth generation and subsequent generations need working economics and good military profiles for their roles, not some damn CEO Christmas with every design tweak.
The pity of it is that America’s political cronyism and Congress-addled tech development is so cumbersome and stunningly slow. America is about 2 years behind on hypersonic systems, for example, at least officially. It’s like an Olympic sprinter is now some fat slob who can’t find his way out of a chair in anything less than ten years.
The imbecile dithering and third-party pandering is all too obvious. It is chronic, and invariably happens at the expense of real military needs. Everyone’s little pet contractor seems to have a niche in this absurd environment. From the magnificent Skunk Works and early X series to this dismal condition is a real comedown, and it’s an operationally dangerous comedown.
The trick is going to be all about getting the lead out and making sure it stays out of development and design. Can the United States ditch the bozos and get back to speed with its military tech? There’s good money to be made on bets, and someone will collect. Let’s just hope it’s not the US military paying in blood for the idiocies and dawdling tech.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Sukhoi S70 UAV, Okhotnik, air superiority, sixth generation fighters, f22
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