Russia is finally producing airplanes on a regular basis for its struggling Sukhoi Su-57 Felon fifth-generation stealth fighter program (see our new video on this topic below). Two Su-57s were delivered in September to the Russian air force and two more are expected to be ready by the end of the year. The latter two are currently being flight tested. It has been slow going for the Su-57 as one aviation news outlet wrote that total Su-57 models number only in the single digits.
There Are Not Many In Service
The first Felon was likely to have been delivered in late 2021. Two more were sent into service in January of this year and in May a couple of Su-57s were glimpsed at a facility near Novosibirsk. Russia believed serial production was to start in 2017, but there have been delays and mishaps. One crashed in 2019 during tests before it was sent to the air force. The pilot ejected safely but this was such a blow to the program that Igar Ozar, the CEO of Sukhoi, resigned. The troubles with the airplane go all the way back to the late 2000s when the manufacturer had issues with the fighter’s engines that caused compressor stalls and even one engine fire. So, designers chose the older Saturn AL-41F1 engine that came on the Su-35.
It Had More Growing Pains
There was an initial flight in 2010, but testing ran out of gas soon after as engineers noticed cracks on the airframe. Engineers made some improvements with better composites and re-designed the tail with a bigger wingspan. Then the Russian air force became optimistic. They want 22 by the end of 2024 and then a total of 76 in 2028. It remains to be seen whether they can hit those numbers.
Is It the Best Fifth-Generation Fighter?
Russia claims the fighter can withstand 9g and fly at MACH 2 speeds. The Su-57 has six internal and external hardpoints for missiles and bombs. Miguel Ortiz of We Are the Mighty wrote that it is “Coupled with advanced avionics like a powerful radar, infrared search and track, an ultraviolet missile approach warning system, and an electronic countermeasure suite, Russia touts the Su-57 as the most capable fifth-generation multirole fighter in the world.”
No Significant Use Cases Over Ukraine
There is some question as to their use during the war in Ukraine. Russian state-run media has said that four Su-57s were used to destroy Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems. RIA Novosti bragged in June that this showed that the Su-57 was able to evade radar with supreme stealth capability. However, the Su-57 is not believed to be stealthier than the F-35 or F-22.
There Is More Than Stealth
Perhaps the engineers were willing to forgo extremely low radar cross section and focus on other aspects. A positive characteristic of the Su-57 is that its avionics are advanced and can be easily updated. The radar system enables good situational awareness. The Su-57 also has 3D thrust vectoring, which gives it ample maneuverability and it is almost as fast as an F-22.
It Should Be Able to Outfly Fourth Generation Competition
The Su-57 thus has some advantages over fourth-generation fighters such as the F-16, F/A-18, and F-15 (depending on the skill of the pilots). Russia will figure out how to get it into faster serial production. They will iron out problems in testing and may even use it more over Ukraine. It may not be the best fifth-generation fighter in its class, but it will give the Russian air force reason to feel satisfied with its homegrown aerospace industry.
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 and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.