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Capable of supersonic flight, the Su-57 contains highly advanced avionics and certain levels of stealth technology.
The Su-57 Felon Near Ukraine
The Russian Aerospace Forces has been using its most advanced fighter jet over Ukraine at least since early summer, according to British Military Intelligence.
However, the handful of Su-57 Felon fighter jets that are operational are limited to “launching long range air-to-surface or air-to-air missiles” against Ukrainian urban centers, critical infrastructure, or military targets.
At the end of 2022, the British Military Intelligence identified at least five Su-57 Felons at the Akhtubinsk air base, which is located near the Caucasus.
Approximately 320 miles from the frontlines, the air base provides reasonable safety for Russia’s only fifth-generation fighter jets.
The satellite imagery depicts some safety measures, such as concrete barriers between aircraft, that are aimed to protect against a Ukrainian missile or drone attack.
“Recent commercially available imagery shows five FELON parked at Akhtubinsk Air Base, which hosts the 929th Flight Test Centre. As this is the only known FELON base, these aircraft have likely been involved in operations against Ukraine,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in a recent estimate of the conflict.
The air base also houses the test and evaluation squadrons that train future Su-57 Felon pilots.
But the Russian military has been very careful with its multirole fighter jets, only allowing them to deploy stand-off munitions, such as cruise missiles, from afar and not letting them get close to the fighting.
This approach “is symptomatic of Russia’s continued risk-averse approach to employing its air force in the war,” the British Military Intelligence stated, and isn’t limited to just the Su-57 Felon. Indeed, the Russian military uses other expensive aircraft, such as the Su-35S and nuclear strategic bombers, only in long-range attacks.
“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,” the British Military Intelligence added.
When it comes to the more dangerous mission sets, cheaper aircraft, such as the Su-25 Frogfoot, are shouldering most of the close air support burden.
The Air War Over Ukraine
The Russian Aerospace Forces haven’t performed as expected in the Ukrainian conflict. More than ten months into the war, the Russian aircraft aren’t any closer to achieving the crucial air superiority than they were on February 24 when the war began.
Perhaps the single most important factor for the Russian inability to control the skies is the fact that the Ukrainian air defenses survived the first wave of Russian attacks in the opening hours and days of the conflict. And when the situation stabilized and Western military aid came pouring in, the Russian forces were doomed to contest the sky against an adversary equipped with advanced NATO weapon systems.
Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.