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Why Russia’s Su-57 ‘Felon’ Stealth Fighter Can’t Hide Its Problems

Russia Su-57
Russia's Su-57 Stealth Fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Russian Su-57 Felon: Stealth Super Fighter or Hype?: Russia’s Su-57 (Felon) is a single-seat, twin-engine “stealth” multirole fighter developed by the Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi. It has been in development since before the fall of the Soviet Union. The Su-57 is intended to replace the MiG-29s and the Su-27s in the Russian Air Force inventory.

The fifth-generation Su-57 is the first Russian fighter aircraft to feature stealth technology, while it was also designed to feature supercruise, supermaneuverability, and integrated avionics. It is one of only four “stealth” fighters in the world along with China’s J-20 and the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 and F-35 fighters.

With all three countries trying to corner the market on exports, the F-35 and the J-20 leave the Su-57 far behind in terms of what the consumers looking for as the next great fighter. In fact, it may actually be the least stealthy fighter of the bunch.

Development History of the Su-57

Back in 1979, the Soviet Union, decided they needed to design a next-generation aircraft that would enter service in the 1990s. The Soviet I-90 project was called the “Fighter of the 90’s” project and it called for the future fighter to be multifunctional, with ground attack capabilities as well as being an advanced air-to-air fighter.

Sukhoi was not entered into the project but developed their own next-generation fighter project and named their prototype the S-32 experimental aircraft, later designated S-37 and then Su-47. However, due to a lack of funds from the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Fighter of the 90s project was canceled.

Russian designers began working on a new next-generation fighter program that the Russian Defense Ministry launched in 1999. Looking to replace the MiG-29 and SU-27 with a lighter aircraft, Sukhoi developed the T-50 project. Sukhoi would win the contract with the Russian government but at a weight of about 23 tons, it was nearly as large as the aircraft it was replacing.

The aircraft’s design was officially approved in 2009, and the T-50 was redesignated the Su-57 in 2017. India was originally a partner in development but withdrew for unspecified reasons. The aircraft went through several issues with prototype testing and design flaws. And in fact, the aircraft’s weight increased to 25 tons

The Russian government signed a contract with Sukhoi to produce 76 Su-57s by 2030, and the first fighter was finally rolled off the production line in 2019 and was delivered to the Russian Air Force in 2020.

SU-57 Specifications:

Crew: 1

Length: 65 ft 11 in

Wingspan: 46 ft 3 in

Height: 15 ft 1 in

Wing area: 848 sq ft

Empty weight: 39,683 lb

Gross weight: 64,530 lb at full load

Max takeoff weight: 77,162 lb

Powerplant: 2 × Saturn AL-41F1 afterburning turbofan, 19,900 lbf thrust each

Performance

Maximum speed: Mach 2 (1,327 mph) at altitude

Mach 1.3 (870 mph) supercruise at altitude

Range: 2,200 mi, 1,900 nmi) subsonic, 4,500 km from 2 outboard fuel tanks

Supersonic range: 930 mi, 810 nmi

Service ceiling: 66,000 ft

Armament

Guns: 1 × 30 mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-1 autocannon

Hardpoints: 12 hardpoints (6 × internal, 6 × external)

Carries an assortment of Air-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, anti-radiation missiles and both guided and unguided bombs.

Russia Touts the Su-57 As Superior to the American Designs:

Back in October, Alexei Leonkov, a military arms expert was quoted by the Russian news organization Tass as stating that contrary to Western military analysts, the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter outperforms its US rivals (F-22, F-35) in weapon systems, robotics, radars, and electronic warfare equipment.

“The Su-57 outshines them by now in terms of the amount and diversity of armament. On top of that, the latest solutions, such as the second pilot as a system that facilitates aircraft control and combat operations, a spherical all-around radar that ‘sees’ everything and cutting-edge electronic warfare systems aboard the Su-57 leave the US rival far behind,” Leonkov said.

“The West would like to see us lag behind, but this is not the case. Clear progress can be seen in Russia with regard to both twin-and single-engine aircraft,” Leonkov added.

Su-57 Stealth Fighter

Image: Creative Commons.

Su-57

Su-57. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Su-57 Stealth

Russia’s Su-57 Stealth Fighter. Image: Creative Commons.

Although the Russians touted that the Felon can carry “prototype” hypersonic air-to-ground missiles, that claim is stretching the truth just a little bit.

Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti newspaper posted a report last year that the missiles used in Su-57 tests were “functional, full-size mock-ups,” but not yet launched. The RIA Novosti added that the “dummy missiles lack a propulsion system, fuel, and warhead but are otherwise identical to the real weapon in terms of weight and dimensions.”

The U.S. Air Force is working toward deploying its own Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon or ARRW hypersonic weapon.

The Su-57: Just Not as Good as the F-35 or China’s J-20? 

Production issues with the SU-57 were many, which is why it took so long before they were finally delivered to the Russian Air Force in 2020. One of the main issues deals with the engine.

Alex Hollings of Sandboxx News wrote back in September of issues with the Felon’s power plant. “It’s now expected that each Su-57 delivered to the Russian Air Force for the foreseeable future will come fitted with the Saturn AL-41F1 engine also found in the 4th generation Su-35S.”

“Not only does operating an older engine limit the performance of the Su-57, it also has a detrimental effect on stealth,” Hollings wrote. And although the Russian government claims that the Su-57’s avionics are on par with the F-35, the sensor suite that they claim gives the pilot 360-degree coverage, a claim that was challenged by the Rand Corporation which wrote that the only aircraft with that technology is the F-35.

While the F-35 and F-22 remain ahead of the Su-57 in terms of stealth and avionics, it is still a formidable fighter but it may be a stretch to call it a fifth-generation fighter.

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for PatsFans.com and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts. You can follow him on Twitter: @SteveB7SFG.

Written By

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for PatsFans.com and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Alex

    January 28, 2022 at 5:02 pm

    It is interesting that the author does not know not only the real characteristics of the SU-57, but even the F-22. However, he claims how bad the Russian aircraft is. But what about the facts when the Russian fighter was not seen by the F-35 radars and redars on the ground? Why was the F-22 forbidden to approach the SU-57? The author is modestly silent about this.

  2. Commentar

    January 29, 2022 at 6:09 am

    I wouldn’t dismiss su-57 out of hand. History has shown that the lowly regarded adversary’s fighter sometimes emerged as final winner. Like the Yak-3 for example.

    Su-57s have longer range and (presumably) operate from russian bases well behind the frontline. Not so for the f-35. Lightning II is relatively short legged and has to sortie from places near hostile territory. This is a serious disadvantage and could prove fatal if used against a powerful peer rival.

    Once airborne, f-35 in war could find itself unable to return due perhaps to its forward airbase or carrier is gone, finished, obliterated or simply kaput.

    Thus, US military must think 2x before unleashing f-35 or even f-22 at a powerful rival. At end of day, it ain’t gonna turn out to be its winning ace or hand.

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