The proverbs “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and “good things come to those who wait” are often used anytime a project takes longer than expected to reach completion. Both are fitting when discussing Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighter aircraft, which has been in development since 2002.
A Navy Killer?
The single-seat, twin-engine multirole Su-57 combines the functions of an attack plane and a fighter jet and was designed to destroy all types of air, ground, and naval targets. According to a recent report from the Eurasian Times, Russia is likely to equip the multi-role combat aircraft with a new anti-ship missile to address and eliminate maritime threats. Tass previously reported the Su-57 would be armed with such missiles in early 2019, but there may have been progress to arm the advanced aircraft with an even more powerful weapon to combat maritime threats.
It is already known that the Russian aircraft could be armed with modified variants of Kh-35UE (AS-20 “Kayak”) anti-ship missile. These operate as guided missiles that can be used against ships and large boats. Moreover, while some anti-ship missiles belong to the sea skimming variety, there are others that use a combination of inertial guidance and active radar homing. In the case of sea-skimming, it is a technique used by many anti-ship missiles and fighter aircraft to avoid radar and infrared detection, as well as to lower the probability of being shot down while approaching the target.
Any of the potential anti-ship missiles used with the aircraft would likely be contained in its two large internal weapons bays, which are arranged in tandem and run nearly the entire useable length of the aircraft. Each of those bays can carry up to four K-77M beyond visual range (BVR) radar-guided missiles. Compared to earlier versions of the K-77 (NATO nickname: AA-12 Archer) the K-77M missile has a larger body and an active electronically scanned array radar seeker, allowing it to engage highly agile targets at ranges of up to 100 miles. Additionally, Russia has announced plans to arm the aircraft with the new R-37M long-range hypersonic missile.
Dangerous Adversary If It Ever Arrives
Combining stealth and speed with advanced weapons, as well as state-of-the-art sensors, the Su-57 (Codenamed “Felon” by NATO) has the potential to be a dangerous adversary and one that could rival other fifth-generation combat aircraft. The Su-57 was not only the first Russian aircraft to utilize stealth technology, but it was also designed to utilize supercruise, supermaneuverability and advanced avionics to overcome attacks from the prior generation fighter aircraft as well as ground and naval defenses.
However, the issue is whether the aircraft ever actually enters service – given that there have been numerous delays in the program, including the December 2019 crash during a test flight of the first “operational” Su-57. The Russian Aerospace Force has announced that it will receive a total of seventy-six Su-57 fighters by 2028, with twenty-two of the aircraft arriving by late 2024. Yet, to date only about a dozen Su-57s have been produced including 10 prototype/test aircraft, along with two that were serially produced earlier this year.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.