However, actual specifics are naturally tough to find. Nevertheless, the Su-57 may present a significant threat to both Ukraine and the West given its reported specs, technologies, and stealthy configuration.
Su-57 Felon: What We Know
The aircraft certainly looks stealthy with its flat, rounded-wing, body-blended fuselage, has a reported range as far as 2,200 miles, and reaches speeds of Mach 2.
The quality of its computing, sensing, weapons, and targeting are likely much more difficult to determine, yet answers to those questions are likely to indicate whether the Su-57 can, in fact, rival an F-35.
What kind of range and resolution do the Su-57s sensors have? What about mission systems, onboard computing, and weapons guidance? The F-35 has, for instance, shown in wargames that its computing and long-range, high-fidelity sensors are able to see and destroy large numbers of enemy fighters from stand-off ranges where it remains undetected. How does the Su-57 compare in this respect?
Available data says the Su-57 operates with an Active Electronically Scanned Array radar and phased array radar, supported by extensive electronic countermeasures and infrared search and track targeting technology (IRST). The IRST on the Su-57 may or may not be similar to the one currently operating on the U.S. Navy’s Block III Super Hornet. The F-18s IRST is designed to operate effectively in a “jamming” environment
However, regardless of the extent to which the Su-57 can truly rival U.S. 5th-generation aircraft, Russia’s next-generation aircraft primarily suffers from a numbers problem. There are just not that many of them, as multiple public reports say there are currently somewhere between 4 and 15 operational Su-57 aircraft, and Russia’s TASS news agency has reported plans for the country to acquire 76 Su-57s over the next five years.
The U.S. alone already operates as many as 300 F-35s, not including the fast-growing allied force of European F-35s, numbers which clearly outmatch a small number of Su-57s in terms of an ability to “mass” formations and cover a large operational envelope.
Russia may also be behind with 5th-generation manned-unmanned teaming or “loyal wingman” operations wherein drones are controlled from the cockpit of the aircraft. The U.S. Air Force has, for instance, demonstrated an ability to network or share information between an F-35 and its Valkyrie drone, a breakthrough development that inspires new tactics and further innovation.
In a similar fashion, Russia’s Izvestia news reports that the Su-57 is working to network with Russia’s S-70 Okhotnik B-drone. The extent of Russian progress with this may be unknown, in terms of whether the Su-57 can operate with the ability to control drones in real-time.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19 FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.