Su-57 coming in more numbers and then to Ukraine? After years of delays, Russia could be one step closer to mass producing its Sukhoi Su-57 jet fighter – the highly touted aircraft that some Russian officials have claimed could rival the American-built Lockheed Martin F-35.
Su-57 serial production was supposed to start last year, and according to reports from Russian state media, mass production has finally begun on the Kremlin’s fifth-generation multirole fighter.
An undisclosed number of Su-57s have reportedly already been produced at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the Russian Far East, and additional aircraft should roll off the assembly line in the New Year.
“This is actually the first year of the highly serial production of Su-57 planes in Komsomolsk and subsequently their number will increase. We reached more or less substantial production of these planes this year,” Yury Slyusar, head of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), said during a live broadcast on the Rossiya-24 TV channel, Tass reported.
Meet Russia’s Fifth-Generation Fighter
The Sukhoi Su-57 (NATO reporting name “Felon”) was developed as part of Russia’s PAK FA program, which was initiated in 1999 to produce a modern fighter for the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS).
It was the first warplane in Russian military service designed with stealth technology, and it was intended to be the basis for a family of stealth combat aircraft.
The Su-57 was further designed to have supercruise, supermaneuverability, and advanced avionics to overcome attacks from the prior generation fighter aircraft, as well as ground and naval defenses.
The single-seat, twin-engine multirole Su-57 has been touted to combine the functions of an attack plane and a fighter jet while the use of composite materials and innovative technologies, along with the fighter’s aerodynamic configuration, was meant to ensure that it has a low-level of radar and infrared signature.
The use of composite materials has reduced the number of parts, but also the overall weight of the aircraft, according to Kremlin claims.
The Su-57 is expected to have a service life of up to 35 years, but it had been in development for two decades, and to date it is still believed that fewer than 30 have actually been produced including 10 test prototypes.
Earlier this year, it was speculated that the number of serially produced Su-57 Felons was likely in the single digits.
Moreover, the first production model to roll off the assembly line had crashed three years ago in late December 2019 before it ever reached the Russian military.
Su-57 Headed to War in Ukraine
It has been further suggested that the recent “production models” are in fact refurbished prototypes, likely to bolster Moscow’s claims that it has ramped up the manufacturing.
That fact would certainly help to explain why the aircraft has been essentially absent from the combat zone in Ukraine.
In August, Russia’s Minister of Defense Army General Sergey Shoigu told state TV that the Sukhoi Su-57 had performed “brilliantly.” Still, there has been no proof the aircraft was ever actually deployed in combat. Either the stealth capabilities are actually that good, or else the aircraft wasn’t sent to Ukraine.
“I find it nearly beyond insane that Russia would ever send the Su-57 to fight in Ukraine,” Harry J. Kazianis, a military expert who has wargamed extensively the Russia-Ukraine conflict and is president of the Rogue States Project, previously told 19FoftyFive.
“If Ukraine took down a Su-57 it would be such a big PR victory for Kyiv that it would call into question even more than it is now the capabilities of the Russian military and Russian Air Force. Why would Putin take such a chance? Simple, he won’t.”
Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.