If Russia decides to send planes into combat by the end of this decade, human pilots in those aircraft will still pick targets, but it will be drone escorts that actually drop the bombs. The S-70 Okhotnik, a prototype combat drone produced by Russian defense giant Rostec, is expected to enter military service in 2024 with the promised capability of attacking both air and ground targets.
Guiding the Okhotnik 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.