Putin Has a Problem: The Su-57 might not be stealth after all: For years, Moscow has touted the capabilities of its Sukhoi Su-57 (NATO reporting name “Felon”).
And yet the aircraft has been essentially absent from the skies over Ukraine.
Well, ok, unless you count firing long-range missiles into Ukraine as being truly at risk in the recent conflict.
Is the Su-57 Felon Really Stealth? What We Know
It would almost seem to the casual observer that Moscow isn’t all that eager to deploy the aircraft in combat in Ukraine.
Perhaps there is a fear that the advanced stealth fighter isn’t actually as advanced as Sukhoi and the Kremlin claimed.
It certainly may not be as stealthy, and according to TheAviationGeekClub.com, the Felon could hardly be described as a true stealth aircraft.
The military aviation website compiled commentary and discussions from a number of aircraft experts, who noted that the Su-57 doesn’t come anywhere close to the reduced radar signature of Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II.
“Sukhoi claims Su-57 having a RCS goal between 0.1 to 1 m^2 (-10 to 1 dBsm). For comparison, the F-117 had a RCS around -25 dBsm while the F-22 and F-35 has a RCS better than -40 dBsm – which is at least 1,000 to 10,000 times smaller than Su-57. All of these are based on unclassified program goals and YF-117’s RCS testing data from Skunk Works,” explained aviation expert Abhirup Sengupta.
At issue is that the Su-57 was not built from the ground up.
“The goal was to modify an existing airframe (Su-27) to maximise RCS-reduction without having to design a new airframe from scratch. This is evident from Sukhoi Design Bureau not adding basic things like Serpentine intakes which are critical for achieving serious LO signature. In essence Su-57 in many ways is similar to US Navy’s F-18 Super Hornet program,” Sengupta added.
What Russia Claimed on Su-57 Felon
In late 2018, Mikhail Strelets, the chief designer and director of the Sukhoi Design Bureau, said in a live interview with the state-run Zvezda TV Channel that the Su-57 was far superior to the F-35 as well as the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
“The Su-57 has no rivals among fifth-generation planes,” Strelets suggested and took his argument to the absurd. “It so turned out and we didn’t choose this specially [SIC] but if you sum up 22 and 35, you get the figure 57.”
Even as some NATO F-35 pilots praise the Lightning II’s capabilities, Russia’s own pilots have simply dismissed it.
“Su-57 will kill [an F-35] easily, should they meet one on one. The F-35 cannot maneuver, it’s simply incapable. But it does has electronic might,” Magomed Tolboyev, a renowned test pilot, told Tass while marking his 70th birthday. “Today, you no longer fight one on one. Everything depends on your support. There is electronic warfare today. This is no longer a sparring tatami, but a complex approach to tactical issues.”
What is notable is that in recent years, Russia has said much about the maneuverability and weapons load of the Su-57 but very little about its stealth.
Perhaps Moscow knows not to say too much – knowing that the Felon is one that will be easily caught on radar.
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.