Russia’s New Stealth Fighter Jet: Sukhoi Su-57
Since the Cold War, the race in aeronautical warfare technology has been dominated by the American military and its allies. One area in which the American military has focused its production is the development of stealth fighter jets and bombers.
The current arsenal of US ‘super’ planes includes the B-2 bomber, the F-22, and the F-35 fighter jet. These are all-around stealth planes, proving to be very difficult to detect from any angle. Except for the B-2, they are mostly equipped with small fuel tanks as well as short-range weapon systems.
The B-2, can fly thousands of miles on one tank of fuel, and its primary munition is a 2,000-pound gravity bomb, guided by satellite. (Axe 4/13/20) The sheer size of the American air force, especially considering its fighter jets, support systems, and aerial tankers has forced rival countries to rethink much of their weapon design.
Cue the entrance of the Sukhoi Su-57, Russia’s next-generation stealth fighter jet, which many experts think could balance the scales in aerial capabilities between the Russian military and the American military.
Although first introduced nearly ten years ago, it was recently announced that Moscow intends to begin delivery of the stealth jet to the Russian Air Force sometime late this year.
Back in August of 2013, Bill Sweetman, a reporter with Aviation Week at the time, said, “I suspect that the fighter won’t be in service for some years, except possibly in the form of a test squadron.” (Axe 4/13/20)
However, many in the weapons and aeronautical community believe that it would only take a squadron of these planes to do untold damage to the American military.
The Su-57 is an angular, twin-engine fighter jet with a wingspan of nearly fifty feet.
It will be bought and used in small numbers, mainly as a high-altitude and extremely fast “airborne sniper.” (Axe 4/13/20)
This airborne sniper can take down enemy radar and air support using high-tech, long-range missiles, crippling an enemy’s ability to refuel its fighter jets.
The skillset of the Su-57 seems to be specifically designed to exploit key vulnerabilities in the United States as well as its ally’s airpower. The weapon systems on the aircraft prefer targets central to the United States’ vast aerial arsenal, such as Airborne Warning and Control Systems, tankers, and ground-based radar.
To accomplish this, the Su-57 can be equipped with two powerful weapons: the Kh-58UShE anti-radar missile and the RVV-BD air-to-air missile. Both of these missiles are nearly fifteen feet long, and can hit their respective targets (enemy radar systems for the Kh-58UShE and enemy aircraft for the RVV-BD) from more than 120 miles away. (Axe 4/13/20)
Sukhoi, the maker of the Su-57, is preparing to deliver nearly 76 of these jets to front line forces all across the globe. This delivery was originally due to take place in late 2019, but a crash of one of the jets in December 2019 caused the company to suspend the delivery for the time being. (Axe 4/22/20)
This is not the first time that circumstances have caused the fighter jet to be delayed in production. At one point, India was assisting in the development of the aircraft but withdrew from the deal in April 2018. As an Indian Air Force official put it bluntly, “the Su-57 was too expensive, poorly engineered, and powered by old and unreliable engines.” (Axe 4/22/20) India was slated to purchase 144 of these stealth jets and had provided almost $6 billion for the design process.
However, this plane only ever existed on paper, as the country has now removed itself from the program, exemplifying the vast gap between drawing the blueprints for a dynamic aircraft and seeing the production of this aircraft through to the end.
However, India leaving the project was not the first time Sukhoi was having apparent production issues, which already has lead to accidents and could in the future lead to an elevated radar signature that would make the Su-57 unusable in its stealth role.(Axe 4/22/20)
Currently, the Su-57 is under further tests to evaluate the operating systems on the fighter jet, and the Russian Ministry of Defence has said that Russian Aerospace Forces will have the jets in the second half of the 2020s. (Hladyshava) This is due to the development of a fifth-generation engine, which will have increased fuel efficiency and lower costs than the fourth-generation engine that has been in all Su-57s to date.
And two years after India’s deal fell apart, Russia has found its first export customer for the new jets, as the Algerian Air Force ordered 14 of the planes. Although the new aircraft could pose a threat to the United States’ military interests, the bumps in the road for Russia in the production of their new “secret” weapon highlights how far ahead the United States stands in terms of military capabilities. Russia still has a lot of catching up to do.
Written by Derek Chiang, Edited by Michael Ding, Bryan Xiao, Jack Argiro, James Rhinelander & Alexander Fleiss