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Su-57 – Meet the Russian Stealth Fighter in Top Gun: Maverick

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

Though, according to some, classic dogfighting has fallen off as a tool of modern fighter jet combat, the release of the new Top Gun: Maverick seems to have revived the topic.

Indeed, the most recent trailer seems to show such an engagement between an old F-14 Tomcat (flown in the original Top Gun), perhaps the most famed US fighter jet since World War II, and what appears to be a Russian fifth-generation Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter.

Whichever plane comes out on top in the matchup, however, will likely remain the stuff of fiction. The F-14 has been retired from use since 2006, and Russia possesses so few Su-57s that it is unlikely any would be deployed in serious combat roles anytime soon.

The Su-57 Questions

Still, the movie does raise interest in the long-stalled Russian aircraft.

The outcome of the Russian Air Force’s PAK FA fifth-generation fighter jet program, the Su-57 “Felon” is a single-seat, twin-engine multi-role fighter fit for both anti-air and air-to-ground missions.

It has a supersonic range of more than 1,500 kilometers, a subsonic range of 3,500 kilometers, and can cruise at a speed of up to Mach 2 without the use of afterburners.

Meant to replace the MiG-29 and Su-27 fourth-generation fighters, the Su-57 is Russia’s first stealth fighter.

Though it is far superior to its Russian predecessors, it is not as stealthy as other fifth-generation jets such as the Chengdu J-20 and F-35 Lightning.

However, unlike the J-20, the Su-57 utilizes 3D thrust vector controls allowing for maneuverability at high speeds and altitudes. Such maneuverability is suggested to be superior to the F-22 Raptor’s, potentially giving the Su-57 an upper hand in a dogfight situation.

Su-57: The Weapons 

In addition, the Su-57 possesses the ability to carry advanced weapons. It has two side bays storing short-range air-to-air missiles and two internal weapons bays mounted between the engines. The internal bays can carry a total of four beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles such as the active radar-homing K-77M. Russia is also planning at some point in the future to add R-37M long-range hypersonic missiles.

For ground strike capabilities, the Su-57 can carry the Kh-38 tactical ground missile and a variety of the KAB family of precision-guided bombs. On top of this, a number of external hardpoints allow the plane to load up with even more armaments to run non-stealth missions.

In addition to having lesser stealth capabilities than comparable jets, the Su-57’s greatest known weakness is probably its engine. The plane was designed to house the Izdeliye 30 engine, but so far the small number produced have been outfitted with either Izdeliye 117 or AL-41F1 augmented turbofan engines—both fourth-generation engines not truly fit for a fifth-generation fighter.

Issues over the development of the engine have caused India, Russia’s original partner in the joint development of a fifth-generation fighter since 2007, to withdraw from the program in 2018 to instead develop engines of its own based on French, British, and American models.

Su-57

Su-57 in Top Gun: Maverick. Image Credit: YouTube Screenshot.

This has hampered overall progress on the fighter jet, with Russia now expecting the 76 it ordered to be delivered no earlier than 2028. Now with massive sanctions in place, it is possible this timeline will be pushed back even further, regardless of the existing small number of Su-57s the Russians already possess.

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review.

Written By

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Rich

    May 27, 2022 at 1:15 pm

    In a visual range dog fight the SU might have the advantage. However, in any plausible scenario where the two aircraft meet in combat, an F22 would delete the Sukhoi before the SU even realized it was engaged.

    • Yar K.

      May 28, 2022 at 10:36 am

      Exactly. Furthermore, there are only Su-57 demonstrators, no serial fighters

  2. kevin b

    May 28, 2022 at 12:54 pm

    the SU57 is NOT a stealth aircraft.look at the pics of it. see the panels joined by rivets?? Not Stealthy. Look at images from the front of the aircraft.See the engines in the intakes?? Not Stealthy. See how the canopy opens hinged behind the cockpit and it has no treatments around where it would seal to the body??? Again Not Stealthy. Just because a human being has the same shape as Mike Tyson; it does not mean they can fight like Mike. Same goes for the Su 57.Just because it is shaped like a stealth fighter does not make it one.

    • Mike

      May 28, 2022 at 7:18 pm

      The lack of education or people on this board is hilarious as aviation mechanic I will tell you F-22 has rivets.Any aircraft that uses Titanium for a turning aircraft with stronger payload will have rivets.The composites on Su-57 have been increased and idea that Su-57 has less stealth than J-20 with fat mid section and canards which add extra RCS to an aircraft is something never proven.While aircraft can remind stealth with canards it weakens planform alignment.Russia has had a lot of success with IZd 30 engines but full scale production won’t start for engines until 2024.J-20 still uses older Al-31 engines or Chinese ws-10c variants.F135 engine to f-35 is badly flawed and their isn’t enough engines available also composites cannot deal with heat temps like F119 titanium was able to.Raptor was so expensive however it had to be canceled.Propaganda from
      Non experts about Su-57 has been hilarious it’s an aircraft with great potential in future.I’m glad military who was involved in making the new top gun seen it this way as well!Sit down armchair experts!

      • thelaine

        May 29, 2022 at 10:22 am

        Thanks Ivan.

        • Ivan

          June 17, 2022 at 10:05 am

          No problem, uncle Sam.

  3. DAVID TENNIEN

    May 29, 2022 at 5:46 pm

    Ahh Mach2 with no afterburner? The SU-57 isn’t capable of Super cruise. There were only 2 operational built and one of them crashed. This whole article is pointless.

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