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Putin is Terrified of Losing Su-57 Stealth Fighters in Ukraine

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

Russia continues to tout the capabilities of its Sukhoi Su-57 (NATO reporting name “Felon”), its first fifth-generation stealth fighter, and five of the aircraft have even been spotted at a Russian airbase thought to be used to launch missions against Ukraine. The aircraft have been employed to launch long-range missiles toward Ukrainian targets, yet, the fighters have been absent over the actual skies of Ukraine, and it isn’t because of the stealth capabilities.

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Rather, Russia’s air chiefs largely remain “risk averse” to employing the Su-57 in combat, the Evening Standard reported on Monday, citing the latest intelligence briefing from the UK Ministry of Defence, which noted on social media, “Since at least June 2022, Russian Aerospace Forces have almost certainly used Su-57 FELON to conduct missions against Ukraine. FELON is Russia’s most advanced fifth-generation supersonic combat jet, employing stealth technologies and highly advanced avionics.”

The MoD added, “These missions have likely been limited to flying over Russian territory, launching long range air-to-surface or air-to-air missiles into Ukraine,” while recent commercially available imagery apparently showed five Su-57s “parked” at Akhtubinsk Air Base, which hosts the 929th Flight Test Center.

“As this is the only known FELON base, these aircraft have likely been involved in operations against Ukraine,” the MoD suggested. “Russia is highly likely prioritising avoiding the reputational damage, reduced export prospects, and the compromise of sensitive technology which would come from any loss of FELON over Ukraine,” and “This is symptomatic of Russia’s continued risk-averse approach to employing its air force in the war.”

Su-57: Brilliant Aircraft?

In August, Defense Minister Army General Sergey Shoigu told the state-run Rossiya-1 TV channel that the Su-57 had been used in Ukraine and had performed “brilliantly” despite no evidence of when or where the fifth-generation fighter had been deployed. A source in the Russian aerospace industry had previously told Tass that the Su-57 had also taken part in combat operations, but few details were provided.

It is believed the Felon was first tested in actual combat operations in Syria in 2018, but it went up against no actual aerial opposition and likely faced limited ground-based anti-aircraft. The situation in Ukraine would be quite different, as Russia doesn’t maintain air superiority in the skies over Ukraine, while Kyiv’s forces are equipped with a significant number of S-300 air defense systems.

Russia may thus tout the capabilities of the multi-role Su-57, including the fact that it was designed to destroy all types of air, ground, and surface targets, but it clearly isn’t risking the aircraft in a contested environment. While the Felon is reported to also have supersonic cruising speed, in-fuselage armament, and radio absorption coating (stealth technology), as well as the latest complex of onboard equipment, the Kremlin currently operates only a handful of the aircraft – and clearly doesn’t want to risk any.

The Russian Air Force was set to receive twenty-two Su-57s by the end of 2024, while that number would increase to seventy-six by 2028. Given the sanctions imposed on Russia, it is unclear if Moscow is still actually on track to meet those numbers.

“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.”

It now appears that Putin isn’t alone in being risk-averse to deploying the Su-57 in combat.

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.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.



  1. Jacksonian Libertarian

    January 9, 2023 at 3:40 pm

    Authoritarians hate competition, and state authorized (cronies) and owned monopolies are common.

    Democracies thrive on competition, starting with the competition for power, and epitomized by Free Markets.

    Gangsters can’t afford to be seen as weak, as like themselves other gangsters prey on the weak.

    Putin thought he outgunned Ukraine 3 to 1, but he’s losing and looks weak. By keeping his best weapons out of the competition he can pretend he’s still got an ace or two up his sleeve, even if they are in reality deuces (fear of the unknown).

  2. Ben Leucking

    January 9, 2023 at 8:54 pm

    Not sure where this problem lies, either the 1945 authors or some high-testosterone editor sitting behind a keyboard, but I’m getting really tired of 1945’s penchant for using click bait article titles – especially when the content doesn’t match up in scope, scale or gravity to the title.

    Your articles should stand on their own merit. No need for hyperbole. A poorly written article doesn’t get better by saying “Putin is Scared” or some other nonsense in the title. A well written and factual article doesn’t need a garbage title.

  3. Lepke Buchalter

    January 10, 2023 at 1:40 pm

    I hate click bait.

  4. Pa l

    January 10, 2023 at 1:41 pm

    US/NATO is terrified of losing ANY fighter jets in Ukraine…so what’s the author’s point?

  5. James T Matters

    January 10, 2023 at 4:31 pm

    So, rather than putting a state of the art aircraft into combat, where it should dominate, Putin prefers to allow his Migs and Flankers to be destroyed by an enemy that cannot match the 57?
    If that is really what is going on, the 57 must be a real turd.

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