This is Hunter. It looks like a regular drone, but all hints point at it being a lot more than that.
Credit: ВКС России
Hunter seems to be a robotic wingman that flies autonomously side to side with Russian combat jets, with the pilot issuing combat orders to it on the fly.
This is not a new concept. The U.S Air Force hinted at the same idea in this video about the future of air combat (starts at the 3:10 mark):
According to the USAF, sometime in the 2030s, an F-35 pilot would be able to fly with robotic AI-powered wingmen, with the human pilot giving them orders on the fly through wireless electronic communications. The pilot will be able to tell these drones to attack a target on the ground, another plane, or execute defensive maneuvers without putting his or her life on the line.
It seems like the stuff of science fiction movies or games, but that’s what the USAF envisions. And, looking at the coverage by Tom Demerly in The Aviationist, the Russians may be getting to fly them right now.
Demerly points at two major hints. The first is this photo of a Sukhoi Su-57. On its tail you can see the shapes of that human-piloted combat jet followed by the Hunter, both connected with a lighting bolt:
Credit: ВКС России
This seems to imply a wireless connection between the two planes, which may work in the same fashion as the concept portrayed in the USAF “future forward” video.
The other clear hint is the pixel camouflage in the shape of the Hunter drone you can see in the Sukho above. Obviously, not only do the Russians want to have robotic AI wingmen, but they want to have their human-piloted jet fighters confused with the drones from the ground.
I can’t help but to think of the double-fighter in Galaga, the wingmen that you could fly with in the classic 1981 video game.
Except this is not an arcade game. Sure, some will say that Russian military technology is always half baked, but recent developments — like the invulnerable 20 Mach hypersonic nuclear missile — show that things may have changed. As a U.S. Air Force General and Commander of the US Strategic Command John E Hyten told National Interest about that missile: “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us.”
Seems like the Russians are not stopping at deadly unkillable missiles. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem that they need any missiles or robotic planes to destroy us, anyway.
Good luck, everyone.