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The teaming of manned aircraft with unmanned air systems enhances air support capability, enabling complex operations to be conducted with a mix of platforms and systems. Russia has been working on such capability. A prototype of the Russian S-70 Okhotnik combat drone is expected to enter military service in 2024 with the promised capability of attacking both air and ground targets. The manned-unmanned teaming will be part of Russia’s approach to network-centric war.

Guiding the fighter jet produced by Rostec and overseeing its target selection will be a human fighter pilot inside the cockpit of an Su-57, Russia’s fifth-generation fighter and an approximate counterpart to the US’s F-35. 

Using a combat drone to extend the power and reach of an inhabited fighter, while still keeping a human in charge of firing decisions, is an increasingly common practice among militaries. If it works as promised, it means that this concept will not be limited to the military of the United States or its allies, according to

The Okhotnik and the Su-57 will share their targeting and sensor data, potentially allowing each aircraft to perceive everything captured by the other’s sensors. Each Okhotnik can carry up to 4,400 pounds of bombs, which is considerably more than what an Mq-9 Reaper in US service can deliver.

“The Su-57 and Okhotnik teaming is the first of its kind in the Russian military,” says Samuel Bendett, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis and adjunct senior fellow at the Center for New American Security.

“Right now, the Russian military establishment is saying that a human pilot onboard the Su-57 will have a final say [regarding] what targets Okhotnik will strike,” says Bendett. “The S-70 will also have an on-board AI, according to the Ministry of Defense, for faster and more resilient command, control, and scouting.”