Russia’s Su-57 stealth fighter has entered a competition with other radar-evading fighter jets from the United States and China and it is struggling to keep up. The F-22, F-35, and J-20 stealth fighters are also patrolling the skies and it looks like the Su-57 is in fourth place due to various imperfections.
Called the “Felon” by NATO, the Su-57 has endured a checkered past, having its first flight in 2010, then being plagued with engine problems, plus becoming afflicted by cost over-runs and schedule delays. Then it crashed and burned during a training flight in 2019 and the manufacturer’s CEO resigned as a result.
To make matters worse, the fifth-generation Su-57 is just not as stealthy as the other airplanes in its class. Its engines have an infrared signature that makes it stand out. The body panels are not as tightly bound together compared to its competition, making the aircraft easier to spot on radar.
The Su-57 Has an Unmanned Stealth Friend
But the Su-57 is still an airplane that should be taken seriously. What makes the Su-57 stand apart is that it can be integrated with an unmanned airplane called the S-70 Okhotnik (Hunter) stealth drone. This unmanned “ever-loyal wingman” can launch its own attacks or serve as a surveillance and electronic warfare aircraft. Russia is so enamored with this unmanned wingman that it is introducing a two-seat Su-57 in 2025 to give the co-pilot and onboard computers more bandwidth to better integrate the drone and the manned fighter into a single system.
One Dangerous Jet
The Su-57 is designed to replace the Russian MiG-29 and Su-27 non-stealth fighters. At 900 miles, it has better range than both of those fourth-generation fighters. The Su-57 is more maneuverable and faster – it is able to fly at MACH 2 without the need for afterburners. The Russian Air Force hopes the 3D thrust vectoring controls allow it to outwork the F-35 and F-22. The Su-57 even launched a cruise missile while deployed in Syria.
The Su-57 Is Overshadowed by New Russian Stealth Fighter
However, the Su-57 is already being undermined by its own country. Vladimir Putin is reportedly proud of the so-called “Checkmate” stealth fighter that is overshadowing the Su-57. Unveiled at an air show this summer, the Checkmate is designed to be manufactured at a cheaper price to compete with the F-35. The Checkmate will cost between $25 million to $30 million compared to the cost of a F-35 at about $90 million. It will have a radar that can scope six targets at once. Ample artificial intelligence is also onboard, according to the manufacturer. Checkmate can be equipped with ship-killing missiles plus the latest air-to-air ordnance and many different types of bombs.
The Su-57 is Here to Stay
The Su-57 is not as stealthy as the competition and not as flashy and cost-effective as the Checkmate, but it does have its advantages. It gives the Russians a low-observability fighter-bomber option. It is better than any other fighter plane that Russia now flies. It can be integrated with an exciting drone program. Plus, the Su-57 is fast and agile. The Checkmate will also not be available until 2023 at the earliest, so that makes the Su-57 the best fighter in the Russian inventory at this point.
Now serving as 1945’s new Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.