Russian Su-57 and the “loyal wingman” coordinated training, how far is the “drone air combat”

According to the public news of the Russian Aerospace Forces quoted by the Russian Satellite News Agency, recently, the Russian Aerospace Forces, together with the Russian National Defense Industry Group, took the Sukhoi S-70 Hunter at the Ashuruk shooting range in Astrakhan Oblast. The “Unmanned Fighter Aircraft” has undergone a series of new tests.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

In these tests, the “Hunter” UAV demonstrated for the first time the ability to carry active radar-guided air-to-air missiles and infrared-guided air-to-air missiles. In the test earlier this year, the “Hunter” did not The man-machine and Su-57 fighters carried out some advanced tactical exercises. This undoubtedly means that since the “Hunter” UAV began to conduct hybrid tests with the Su-57 fighter at the end of last year, the ewatt UAV has entered a new stage in the development of the aircraft.

Overview of the “Hunter” drone

So, how should we understand the cooperative test of the “Hunter”, “Hunter” UAV and the Su-57 fighter aircraft being tested by the Russian Aerospace Forces? In that way, is it capable of “carrying air-to-air missiles” or even “a certain degree of autonomous air combat”?

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

The performance of the “Hunter” drone

Let’s talk about the technical and tactical performance of the “Hunter” first. Big Ivan believes that from the current public information analysis, some of the technical performance of the “Hunter” drone is somewhat unique:

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

The first is that the body is larger, the maximum take-off weight is larger, and the power is quite abundant. According to public information, the “Hunter” drone has an empty weight of about 10 tons, a maximum take-off weight of about 20 tons, and a power unit equipped with a Saturn AL-31F-M1/AL-41F1 high-thrust turbofan engine ( No afterburner version).

From the take-off weight data, the “Hunter” UAV has surpassed most of the UAVs used by my country’s aviation industry for foreign military trade, and has reached the same level as the U.S. X-47B unmanned fighter jets and MQ-25. The same level of unmanned support aircraft. From the perspective of the power system, compared to the MQ-25 UAV which still relies on an AE-3007 mid-thrust turbofan engine manufactured by Rolls-Royce, the “Hunter” UAV works directly. A high-thrust turbofan engine was installed.

Therefore, objectively speaking, the “Hunter” UAV is one of the unmanned fighters that have been installed by major military powers and are organizing test flights. It has the largest body, the highest take-off weight, and the most powerful model. One.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

The second is the complete configuration of avionics and weaponry systems, and the expected tactical tasks to be undertaken are quite diverse. According to the Russian Air and Space Army, the “Hunter” UAV is equipped with a complete avionics system, and to a certain extent has the ability to autonomously find and attack the enemy. In the long run, it will have automatic air combat guided by machine learning and artificial intelligence. , Automatic face-to-face attack performance.

In the weapons and equipment it is equipped with, thanks to the huge body and superior power system of the “Hunter” drone, it is estimated that its fuselage bomb bay can carry 2000 to 3000 kilograms of ammunition, and can use X-31P, Tactical missiles such as X-58, X-29, X-35 and KAB-500Kr or precision strike missiles undertake surface attack tasks, and now they have completed tests with K-77-1 and K-73 air-to-air missiles Sexual integration and weapon carrying capacity should not be underestimated.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

The mission of the “Hunter” drone

Under the condition that the performance of the “Hunter” drone is sufficiently superior and has considerable performance potential, the Russian Aerospace Force will undoubtedly have extremely high expectations for this model in the future. In terms of tactical tasks, on the one hand, the Russian Air and Space Army hopes that the “Hunters” can take on certain combat or tactical in-depth confrontation tasks, and undertake some of the tactics undertaken by Su-34, Su-25T and Mi-35 helicopters. Mission, which is also the “normal usage” of unmanned attack aircraft;

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

On the other hand, the Russian Air and Space Army hopes that the “Hunter” UAV can become an effective booster for the Su-57 fighter, as well as a “loyal wingman” for the Su-57 fighter. In air combat, it is used as the Su-57’s forward situational awareness tentacles and “air weapon arsenal”. It can even use its own machine learning and artificial intelligence air combat capabilities to achieve “anti-passenger-oriented” and “autonomous decision-making”. Even real air combat that does not require human intervention and is more efficient than manned fighter jets. This is the main direction of UAV tactics used by military powers.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

The future of “Hunter” drones

Although the idea of ​​the Russian Air and Space Army is very good, and the “Hunter” drone has been intensively tested last year and after a year of adjustments, it now seems to have indeed shown a certain level of strength. 57 Co-training and experimentally carrying air-to-air missiles, everything is fine. But Big Ivan still believes that this “hunter” of the Russian Air and Space Army will evolve from an “unmanned attack aircraft” to an “unmanned fighter”, and there is still much to do. And to further evolve from “unmanned fighter jets” to “artificial intelligence unmanned fighter jets”, the work to be done is undoubtedly more complicated:

The unmanned fighter plane in the movie “Top Secret Flight”

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

From drones to unmanned fighter jets

Let’s talk about how this “Hunter” evolved into a real “Unmanned Fighter”: From a technical point of view, the “Hunter” must truly fight with Su-57 fighter jets and form a synergy in air combat. In terms of technology, there are three basic requirements that must be met: one is that the unmanned fighter must have maneuverability no less than that of a manned fighter, and the second is that the unmanned fighter must have situational awareness and comprehensive radio frequency capabilities no less than that of a manned fighter. Third, a large-bandwidth, high-confidential data link and gateway must be installed between manned fighters and unmanned fighters. However, the analysis of the technical and tactical performance of the “Hunter” unmanned combat aircraft announced by Russia currently fails to reflect the above three technical characteristics.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

In terms of the maneuverability of the “Hunter” unmanned combat aircraft, although the Russian army announced that the “Hunter” has carried out contract exercises with the Su-57 fighter, and the “Hunter” is able to keep up with the Su-57 in air combat. pace”. But the key problem is that the “Hunter” still uses an AL-41F1 turbofan engine ewatt drone without an afterburner. The absence of an afterburner means that this aircraft has no afterburner. Human fighters cannot be supersonic. And when it is unable to fly at supersonic speeds, how do you make this “Hunter” really cooperate with the Su-57? Could it be that Su-57 has been stuck in the subsonic phase waiting for the “Hunter” to catch up? This is obviously unreliable.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

Secondly, in terms of the comprehensive radio frequency capability of the “Hunter” UAV, the “Hunter” is still a bit far behind:

First, it does not reflect the ability to install large-aperture fire control radars. After all, the nose cone diameter of the air inlet is too small to accommodate large fire control radars, and it is also difficult to install such radars on the fuselage. Go to areas like the back;

Second, there are a large number of densely packed antennas on the surface of the “Hunter” UAV fuselage, which has not achieved the integrated radio frequency management or conformal design of most antennas like typical fourth-generation fighters or third-and-a-half generation fighters. . In other words, this “Hunter” has relatively weak situational awareness, and the degree of intensive radio frequency components is not high. Not only can it not be used as the “eye” of the Su-57 in wartime, but it might be the Su-57. It indicates the target. For a drone, it is clearly putting the cart before the horse.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

Finally, from the data link system of the “Hunter” UAV and the Su-57 fighter. It has not been heard that Russia is testing its own new-generation data link, and the S-108 data link provided by the Russian military for the Su-35S fighter is roughly equivalent to the US military’s Link-16 data link in terms of technical performance.

This type of data link belongs to the previous generation of standard tactical data links and is widely used on Chinese and US military aircraft. However, the problem is also very prominent in the fourth-generation fighter: First, the bandwidth is insufficient. In the face of the fourth-generation fighter with stronger situational awareness and more data at the same time, the Link-16 level data link is easy to be blocked. Dead; Second, the confidentiality is poor, and the non-directional antenna is used, which is easy to be intercepted and located in actual combat.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

At present, both the U.S. Air Force and the Chinese Air Force have adopted a new generation of large-bandwidth, high-confidentiality data links to equip their fourth-generation and third-generation semi-fighters. In this technical field, there is no doubt , The “hunters” of the Russian Air and Space Army have to learn one more.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

Of course, judging from the current technical reserves of the Russian aviation and electronics industry, Ivan thinks that over time, the above problems are not difficult to solve: if the mobility is poor, then strengthen the structure of the airframe and replace the engine without afterburner with The “full version” engine with afterburner makes it have supersonic flight performance; situational awareness and comprehensive radio frequency capabilities are poor, which can be left to the new generation of integrated avionics systems, and even Su-57 fighter avionics systems “Technology sinking”; there is a problem with the data link. Ivan believes that Russia will not even fail to develop a new tactical data link.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

Therefore, with Russia’s technical strength, we really plan to deploy a “Hunter” equipment unit that can cooperate with Su-57 fighters and obey the command of Su-57 in air combat in the next five years or so. Think it is very possible.

From unmanned fighter jets to artificial intelligence drones

However, the next thing, the so-called evolution from “unmanned fighter jets” to “artificial intelligence drones”, is much more troublesome: although machine learning and artificial intelligence have now become tactics The next “burst point” of the advancement of weapons technology, even Turkey’s Baykar Makina Industrial Company, which manufactures the Bayraktar TB-2 small drone, has been talking about it these days, saying that its drone was only used in the Naka conflict. Through two days of “machine learning”, adaptive countermeasures can be adopted to counter the threat of Armenian air defense systems and UAV electronic jammers.

Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 unmanned attack aircraft

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

However, Da Yiwan seriously consulted the buddies who are doing artificial intelligence and machine learning projects in domestic colleges and universities, and the answer is: small drones are different from large unmanned fighter jets. Machine learning suppresses a certain weapon. The system is different from a large-scale air battle. To truly realize autonomous decision-making and automatic air combat of unmanned fighter jets, the current international cutting-edge scientific and technological achievements under the conditions of civilian laboratories can only be simulated to a given initial condition and the state of both parties is not Single and dual aircraft simulated confrontation in a black box state.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

In other words, it is actually only a little more advanced than air combat games such as DCS world, and the manual is carried out when the initial conditions of the confrontation are not given, or the target is in a black box state, or the number of confrontation units is too large. In intelligent air combat, artificial intelligence can easily get blind. Even if the initial conditions of the confrontation are determined, and with the accumulation of confrontation time, various small errors accumulate together, it is easy to cause the artificial intelligence confrontation strategy “lost” at a certain time. It’s a thousand miles away.”

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

Finally, the buddies all regret to say that the current computing power of personal computers or small workstations for machine learning has been far behind, and even in terms of current power supply efficiency, it is difficult to follow. Power consumption after the large-scale rollout of artificial intelligence. All in all, it’s a sentence-artificial intelligence, machine learning, and strong AI air combat. Although they look beautiful, they are actually far from practical.

俄罗斯苏-57与“忠诚僚机”协同训练,“无人机空战”还有多远

Therefore, Big Ivan felt that we shouldn’t care too much about the “Hunter” of the Russian Air and Space Army who clamored for “autonomous air combat.” After all, how do you know that our military does not have more advanced and in-depth verification projects? However, no matter how it is verified, it seems that it is difficult to put it into practical use in recent years. It can only be used as a step in the busy schedule and slowly waiting for further breakthroughs in the hardware part.

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