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Fighter Deathmatch – F-35 vs. Su-57 (Which Stealth Plane Wins?)

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

The F-35 stealth fighter by Lockheed Martin is considered one of the best – if not the best – stealth fighter on Earth. However, the newish Russian Su-57 fighter does have some impressive capabilities. What would happen if both went head to head? In the original Top Gun, released in 1986, Tom Cruise’s “Maverick” took on the fictional MiG-28s, which were dressed up as Northrop F-5s. Now with the long-awaited (and long-delayed) Top Gun: Maverick finally about to land in movie theaters at the end of May, it looks like Maverick will be going up against Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 (NATO reporting name “Felon”).

The fifth-generation, all-weather, multi-role, stealth combat aircraft would be a worthy adversary for the American “Top Gun” – especially now that Russia has become the villain of the world, and thanks to sanctions, its populace won’t likely be buying movie tickets for the film anytime soon. By contrast, the Chinese box office has become crucial for Hollywood, so Tom Cruise couldn’t be flying against the J-20 now, could he?

An F-35 vs. Su-57 Showdown?

We’ll have to wait until May 27 to see if a Lockheed Martin F-35 piloted by Maverick will take on a Su-57, but based on toys that have already been released it seems that the F-35 will be present in the film at least in some capacity. While not technically designated a Felon, there will be a toy version of the Su-57 – described as “Enemy Strike Jet” – further suggesting it will have its close-up in the forthcoming film.

Top Gun: Maverick was originally scheduled to be released in 2019, but was delayed so producers could improve the complex flying sequences. It was then further delayed by the Covid pandemic, which shuttered theaters across the US.

Evenly Matched… or Not?

In the world of movie magic, especially one starring aging action star Tom Cruise, we can only expect that the U.S. fighters will hold more than their own against the Russian Enemy Strike Jet. But what about the real world, would the U.S. still have an edge over the Su-57?

The United States certainly has more aircraft, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has also amassed more flight hours. However, the Su-57 is a (slightly) newer platform, and even in the Soviet era, Moscow proved more than capable of developing aircraft that matched their Western counterparts.

The Su-57 is certainly a larger aircraft than the F-35. At 72.2 feet in length, it is 21.8 feet longer than the F-35’s 50.4 feet, while its wingspan is also significantly larger. The Su-57 weighs in at 40,786 pounds (empty) compared to 29,002 pounds for the Lightning II. There are tradeoffs of course, as both are meant to be nimble fighters – not heavy bombers. A larger airframe and wings also mean a larger target.

The Su-57 is faster, significantly faster as a matter of fact. The F-35 has a maximum speed of 1,199 mph compared to 1,616 mph. The Su-57 could thus strike first and run away, while its range is also more than double at 3,107 miles vs. the F-35’s 1,379-mile range.

Both aircraft have internal bays to house weapons, including air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, as well as six external pylons for use in “non-stealth mode.” However, the F-35 is believed to have better stealth capabilities, which means the F-35 could target its adversary before it is even seen. The Su-57 therefore couldn’t strike first if he can’t see the F-35.

It still could come down to the numbers. Neither Washington nor Moscow can afford to lose too many of these fifth-generation aircraft in a fight. Moscow hasn’t produced the aircraft in significant numbers and at this time, there are far more F-35s in service and that isn’t likely to change.

That could give it an edge.

Finally, there is something telling about the fact that Russia hasn’t employed its Su-57s in the war against Ukraine. It has been reported that Russia’s pilots lack flight time, including in simulators. It is true that the United States military is facing a serious pilot shortfall, but the problem is even worse in Russia.

F-35

U.S. Airmen with the 356th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron, prepare to refuel an F-35A Lightning II aircraft with the 354th Fighter Wing during a Forward Area and Refueling Point at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan, Dec. 8, 2021. Airmen with the 354th Fighter Wing conducted a Forward Area Refueling Point with 1st Special Operations and 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron while deployed to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, to simulate expeditionary refueling while operating in Forward deployed environments. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler Harmon)

F-35C

Two F-35C’s from VFA-125 “Rough Raiders”, based at NAS Lemoore, piloted by Major Derek “Shootsbe” Heinz A/C 430 and LT Alex “MoM” Daie A/C 411, Fly Low Level around Freemont Peak near Edwards AFB, Ca., 7 May 2019. The “Rough Raiders” are a Fleet Replacement Squadron flying F-35C Lightning II.

Moreover, the best aircraft isn’t really the best if the pilot at the controls lacks experience, and Russia has a shortfall in pilots, and what pilots it does have, often lack adequate training. Meanwhile, even with the shortfall in pilots, and perhaps even because of it, the U.S. military’s flyboys and fly girls of the 2020s log a lot of hours.

Su-57

Su-57. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Su-57 Stealth Fighter

Image: Creative Commons.

Even those that aren’t yet a “Top Gun” should still be considered deadly good at what they do – and that’s flying the capable F-35.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Suciu is also a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Dan

    May 17, 2022 at 11:12 am

    The American aircraft are as good as the Russian aircraft. The russians focus more on handling/manuverability as opposed to stealth. The problem with Stealth technology is it can be easily overcome by russian latest S500 complexes or any complex soon to be launched which shall make f35 stealth obsolete in a flash.
    The Russian pilots have considerable experience from the Syrian battlefield.
    They have shown experience in Ukraine as well. However they only use a limited number or aircraft (5%) as the rest of their airforce is preparing for NATO and this does not make them lack experience or personnel as you suggested.

    • Martin

      May 18, 2022 at 6:34 pm

      The Russians SU-57 Is a huge and is 1/3 more in weight than the Stealth F_35 Lighting 2. The reason they dont fly the SU-57 in Ukraine is they have built a non Stealh aircraft and dont want Anerica to know it sticks out like a sore thumb. The Russians and the Chinese are nothing but thiefs. The new Russian Checkmate is a communist copy and proof of espionage and is non stealth also. Not to mention our squadrons of F-22 Raptors that will annihilate any communist aircraft they build after stealing our secrets. The J-20 flying dragon has allready been seen on Indian radar in the Himalayan fight. Its a Chinese JUNK! Drop the bomb. Nuke them all. All Russians should just defect as your going to starve to death as long as the MADMAN PUTIN is Dictator. Dos ve danya comrade!

  2. Reinhardt Rossouw

    May 18, 2022 at 12:10 am

    This shouldn’t even be a discussion – one aircraft has been produced in its 100’s, used by several countries and saw actual combat, the other is still in IOC with only three operational samples delivered.

    As far as the much touted S500 capabilities are concerned, it can only see the F35 at around 30 miles, by which time it has already launched its anti-radiation missiles or newer JDAM.

  3. Alex

    May 18, 2022 at 8:58 am

    Sooo…Russia is not the vilain of the world, rather its the vilain of NATO.

    A lot of the world countries support them (BRIKS + Asian Soviets + Africa) and even in NATO there are those that are not so in line with official vilain rethorics (Hungary, Turkie)…

    And as for the stealth aircrafts, didnt the Serbs down two f117s twenty years ago using obsolete radars and antique missiles?

  4. Carlos Chavez

    May 18, 2022 at 1:53 pm

    It’s a movie. So it is fantasy. F35 lost in dogfights to F16s. F35 without stealth are worthless. What is F35 ideal for? Preemptive strike to sneak in and destroy radar installations and AAA batteries and get right out.
    That would be brilliant use.
    As a dog fighter a Su57 will annihilate F35. F22 will challenge a Su57. Right now china is working on quantum scrambling which will make our stealth technology moot and useless. For now F22 reigns supreme.

  5. Vince

    May 18, 2022 at 11:23 pm

    The F35 is the most advanced fighter in the world it can take out Russian fighter 100 miles away. They will never see them coming. This has been known for years the Russians have to tape a GPS to their dashboards. That’s how bad it is…

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