Our answer to "Bayraktar"
Despite all the problems, Russia was able to take a step forward in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles: both reconnaissance and strike UAVs. The main confirmation of this can be called the footage of testing the new Orion apparatus in Syria in February this year. If you believe the data shown (and we have no reason not to believe), the device made at least seventeen sorties. This is not counting reconnaissance and other missions.
A more "serious" apparatus, which in theory could make Russia one of the leaders in this area, is now being tested. We are talking, of course, about the heavy attack UAV "Okhotnik": an unobtrusive drone, the take-off weight of which, according to some sources, can reach 25 tons, and the mass of the combat load will be several tons or even more.
However, this is not all. Apparently, Russia is actively working on what is known in the West as an "unmanned wingman". This means a relatively small (against the background of manned fifth generation fighters and generation 4+ fighters) apparatus that will fly next to the fighter, conduct reconnaissance, divert fire to itself, and even, possibly, be used to strike at ground targets.
The concept could be like a revolution in the use of combat aviation, and another super-expensive failure. Be that as it may, the West does not lose interest in it. Rather the opposite is true. Recently the newest XQ-58A Valkyrie slave unmanned aerial vehicle first opened in flight weapons compartment, dropping a small reconnaissance UAV Altius-600. At first glance, such a multi-tiered system seems complicated, but losing a small drone is less "offensive" than the more expensive Valkyrie.
"Thunder and lightning"
The military is even less pleased with the prospect of losing a fifth-generation manned fighter, the price of which may be in the region of $ 100 million per unit.
Russian initiatives in this regard look much less certain than in the West. However, the idea of "tying" the UAV to the Su-57 has existed for many years, as eloquently evidenced by the 2019 video, where you can observe the joint flight of the Su-57 and the Okhotnik UAV.
The press service of the Ministry of Defense said then:
"During the flight, the interaction between the" Okhotnik "UAV and the aircraft - the leader in expanding the fighter's radar field and target designation for the use of long-range aircraft weapons without entering the Su-57 into the zone of conditional air defense counteraction - was worked out."
However, this is far from the most original idea. As a source in the aircraft industry said in April, they want to teach the plane to carry UAVs inside, launching them from the internal compartments.
"One Su-57 fighter will be able to carry more than a dozen reconnaissance and strike drones, as well as electronic warfare in the intra-fuselage compartment."
- said the interlocutor of the agency.
In addition to the internal compartments, the aircraft will be able to take the UAV on external holders.
The wording given by the source looks somewhat vague. As you know, the Su-57 has two side cargo compartments and two main ones. The lateral ones are relatively small, they allow placing short-range air-to-air missiles there. Most likely, the word "compartment" meant two main compartments (or all four), in each of which, according to some sources, it is possible to place two medium-range air-to-air missiles of the RVV-AE type.
If you believe what they write in the media, the creation of on-board equipment and special software that will allow you to implement the idea is already underway. To date, a stand has been created, where the interaction of the UAV with the Su-57 will be worked out in ground conditions.
It is important to note that unmanned aerial vehicles will be able to interact with each other, and in addition, they will maintain communication with the carrier aircraft.
This information is noteworthy in light of the earlier news, also voiced by a source in the defense industry complex. According to it, the promising attack UAV "Thunder" will be able to control the attack unmanned vehicles "Molniya", but their carriers will not be he, but another aircraft.
"The Thunder unmanned aerial vehicle, developed by the Kronstadt company, in addition to its own strike capabilities, will be endowed with the ability to manage a swarm of 10 Molniya attack drones launched from another aircraft carrier."
- TASS quoted a source in March.
Small UAVs "Lightning" should fly in front of the aircraft, acting, among other things, as "decoys". The UAV is built according to the normal scheme, it has a wing that can be folded in flight and a V-shaped tail. The length of the unmanned vehicle, which looks like a rocket, will be one and a half meters (for comparison: the length of the RVV-AE rocket is 3,6 meters). Its speed will be in the region of 600-700 kilometers per hour, and the mass of the warhead will be about five to seven kilograms. Simply put, the dimensions of the "Lightning" make it easy to place the UAV inside a fifth generation fighter.
It is noteworthy that the "Thunder" itself is seen as a full-fledged strike complex capable of using a wide range of weapons. With a takeoff weight in the region of seven tons, the device will be able to deliver a payload weighing 1,3 tons at a distance of 800 kilometers. According to Tactical Missile Armament, it will be armed with air-to-surface missiles, a new product-85 guided missile, and KAB-250 and KAB-500 guided bombs.
In this regard, one more information is interesting. Last year, RIA Novosti, citing an informed source, reported that the Su-57 itself had begun to develop an unmanned mode. True, the flights were carried out with the pilot in the cockpit. But even if it were absent, as practice shows, a manned fighter in itself is not the best base for a UAV. In this case, many of the initially created systems and subsystems turn out to be "unnecessary", but whether it will be possible in practice to realize the combat potential of the complex is a big question.
In the footsteps of the West
For all the seeming revolutionary nature, the combination of the Su-57 with the UAV is an attempt to analyze the experience of the West, which has gone very, very far. Whether this approach is correct is another question. Until the "unmanned wingman" shows itself in battle and proves its (albeit conditional) economic feasibility, it is too early to draw far-reaching conclusions.
Obviously, the coexistence of manned and unmanned combat vehicles in one form or another will persist for many years, if not decades, despite the rapid growth in the development of UAVs. Whether in the future a drone will be able to completely supplant a pilot-controlled car is another question. So far, the development of UAVs is following in the footsteps of the development of combat aviation as such. When first airplanes were used for reconnaissance, and then they became a full-fledged weapon.
On the other hand, 15 years ago, the West seriously admitted that the F-35 would be the last manned fighter. As you can see, this forecast turned out to be wrong.