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Could Russia’s Su-57 Stealth Fighter Make a Comeback?

Su-57 artist rendering. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Even though Russia is at war, its defense industry continues to churn out high-tech military hardware. Four more Su-57 Felon next-generation stealth fighters are being delivered to the Russian air force, a Moscow state-run media outlet reported on August 16. The CEO of Rostec’s United Aircraft Corporation said the order is part of a larger group that will go to the Air Force later this year. The new fighters are reportedly being built as part of a long-term serial production run. The air force will receive 22 Su-57 fighters by the end of 2024 and their number will go up to 76 by 2028.

Is the Su-57 Flying Over Ukraine?

It’s not clear if the new Su-57s are being used over the skies of Ukraine. Propaganda organ TASS said in the early part of the war that the stealth fighter is flying missions outside of Ukrainian air defenses. They are firing stand-off missiles, according to a “defense industry source.”

No Independent Verification

These flights have not been confirmed with independent photos or video, except for one clip of long-range unclear footage purported to be the Su-57, though it looked more like the Su-24. However, in June state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti reported that “Four Su-57 fighter jets, working in a network, were used to identify and destroy Ukrainian air defense systems.”

Program Has Endured Mishaps and Delays

The single-seat, twin-engine, multirole Su-57 is believed to be fast with a top speed of MACH 2. It also boasts a 360-degree thrust-vectoring control with enviable maneuverability at up to nine Gs. The airplane was designed to go up against the F-22 and F-35. The Su-57 program has been plagued by misfortune over the years. Prototype airframes have cracked during high G maneuvers. Engine problems have led to stalls and even a fire.  

As one former retired CIA analyst who specialized in Russian military technology explained to 19FortyFive: “Su-57 is a program that has not produced a lot of planes. While the fighter surely does have a lot of potential for sure, you can’t do much with them if there are so few of them. Nonetheless, if only a handful are built and the program ends up getting axed, Putin has spent billions of dollars on a stealth program that produced almost nothing. And that seems like a very real possibility.”

Action in Syria

In 2018, Russia released information that claimed the Su-57 has been deployed over Syria. These were demonstration flights that may have been conducted without weapons on board. Plus, the airspace over Syria was not contested.

Su-57 Stealth

AL-41F1 engine compressor stall at MAKS-2011.

Attempts to Export the Su-57

There is an export version of the Su-57 and countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, and India have shown interest but have ultimately passed on a buy. Algeria agreed to buy the Su-57 later this decade. More customers may sign contracts for the Su-57 provided it has a clear role and combat experience in the Russo-Ukraine war.

New Cruise Missile Could Be Utilized for Ground Targets

Russia is likely to keep the Su-57 from flying over Ukraine and continue to operate the craft over Russian air space. Losing the new stealth fighter to enemy fire would be unthinkable and a huge public relations win for Ukraine. The Su-57 is reportedly carrying a longer-range air-to-surface cruise missile called the Kh-69. The Kh-69 was on display at a Moscow international forum earlier in August. The cruise missile has a range of 181 miles. As Russia runs out of precision-guided missiles, the air force may depend more on the Su-57’s standoff missile launch capability.


Image: Creative Commons.

But the main job of the Su-57, taking out enemy fighters, is not likely to occur in the coming months due to the risks of having the airplane getting shot down over Ukraine. The Russian industrial base continues to make more of the Felons and by the end of the year, there should be improved numbers. We will stay on the story and watch out for any photos or videos that show the Su-57 flying over Ukraine.

Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood 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. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from West Virginia University. 

Written By

Now serving as 1945s 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.