Is the Su-57 a True Fifth-Generation Fighter or a Glorified Fourth-Generation Jet?

Russia's Su-57 Fifth-Gen Fighter Faces Skepticism from Western Experts.

Must Read

Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

In 2020, the Russian Aerospace Forces received their first fifth-generation fighter, the Su-57. The Russian Aerospace Forces are scheduled to receive 22 Su-57s by the end of 2024, with 76 planes expected by 2028.

Both Russian and Western sources say that the plane is being used in the war in Ukraine. Su-57 underwent testing in Syria in 2018. Unlike the F-22, F-35, or J-20, this plane has been in battle. However, some Western experts say that the Su-57 is not better than Western fighter aircraft of the same generation.

The Russian argument is that the Su-57 has already surpassed its American counterparts. Furthermore, contemporary advancements, including the ‘ second pilot’ system, a spherical radar station capable of 360-degree monitoring of the entire environment, and modern electronic warfare systems integrated into the Su-57, significantly outperform its American rivals.

Western experts assert that excessive marketing, hoopla, and insufficient facts surround the plane. Due to the Su-57’s nascent stage of development, a substantial portion of the information about this fighter is conjecture. Russia’s authoritative statistics might overstate the aircraft’s capabilities to entice prospective clients and bolster the perception of Russian dominance.

Western specialists disagree with Russian military officials and representatives of the military-industrial complex that the Su-57 lacks most, if not all, of the distinguishing characteristics of a fifth-generation fighter. They contend that the Su-57’s efficacy suffers due to its outdated engine and compromised stealth. In contrast to conventional wisdom, stealth encompasses a succession of overlapping technologies, production methodologies, and combat tactics, and not a singular piece of equipment or technology. Winning against detection and weapon jamming involves not just radar but also infrared thermal signature (signature), and the Su-57’s fourth-generation engines, which were not developed for stealth aircraft, lack masking.

In terms of stealth technology, the Su-57 is likely behind its fifth-generation contemporaries, like as the F-22, F-35, and Chinese J-20. This disadvantage is most likely the result of difficulties in aligning the aircraft’s body panel joints with its stealth profile. Russian engineers working on the single-seat twin-engine Su-57 appear to have had difficulty fitting second-generation contemporary engines.

Analysts at the RAND Corporation have determined that it is highly improbable that the aircraft performed any combat shooting or attack missions in Syria, in contrast to the Kremlin’s unsubstantiated claim to the contrary. The 2019 accident of a Su-57 during flight tests, which was attributed to issues with the tail surfaces of the aircraft, severely impacted the programme and precipitated the resignation of Igor Ozar, the CEO of Sukhoi.

Nevertheless, Russian military specialists highlight the Su-57’s similarity to Western counterparts and, in certain respects, even its superiority. Furthermore, they assert that the primary critique of the aircraft, which pertains to its excessive radar visibility, is completely baseless.

Vladimir Tuchkov, a Russian expert, asserts that all fifth-generation planes use S-shaped air ducts. Due to the straight one on the Su-57, radar emissions are reflected by the turbine blades. This, nevertheless, represents a well-thought-out compromise. This design enabled the internal compartment storage of a maximum of twelve missiles, which could be used for aerial and ground assaults.

Additionally, he pointed out that the F-35’s internal compartment has only four suspension points and that the stealth coating lacks sufficient strength; thus, it was forbidden to modify F-35B and F-35C aircraft for flights exceeding 80 seconds at supersonic velocities.

About the engine issue, beginning in 2024, Russia will deliver Su-57 fighter aircraft equipped with a new engine. According to two sources cited by state-owned TASS, the AL-51F1, or second-stage Izdelie-30, the engine has passed its tests and is now ready for production.

A sophisticated sensor suite is essential for fifth-generation fighter-bomber aircraft, in addition to stealth capabilities. Western specialists assert that such a combination is exclusive to the F-35 and F-22.

However, Russian authorities assert that the fighter can provide 360-degree radar coverage, similar to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

On multiple occasions, Russian authorities have established a correlation between the Su-57’s capability to transmit data obtained from its sensors and the F-35’s revolutionary level of situational awareness. Industry publications indicate that the Su-57’s systems are advanced and upgradable, citing the aircraft’s open-system architecture and distributed computation. Su-57 radars, the 101KS “Atoll” infrared search and track sensor, and the X-Band N036 “Belka” AESA nose radar system provide the fighter with an expansive field of view and all the necessary equipment to detect even camouflaged foes on the horizon.

While the West considers the Su-57’s sensor suite far from complete.

The successful development of this extremely advanced avionics has been and will continue to be a significant challenge for the Russian aerospace and defence industry, according to the authors of RAND. The aforementioned issues were allegedly compounded by Western sanctions that were implemented before the commencement of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the subsequent collapse of the aerospace sectors that had previously been collaborative between Russia and Ukraine.

RAND observed that although the Russian political-military leadership advocated for the renationalisation and transformation of the Russian Aerospace sector in the aftermath of the crisis in Crimea, which commenced in the winter of 2014, the outcomes were, at best, moderate.

Rand estimates that until the late 2020s, a completely developed and production-ready Su-57 will not be commercially viable for foreign buyers, notwithstanding Russia’s efforts to sell the aircraft.

Rand predicts that the Su-57, even when completely developed, will possess characteristics of a modernised heavy fourth-generation fighter similar to the F-15EX. It will lack the low observability features of the F-35 but will have the complete sensor capabilities of this fifth-generation fighter.

Experts from the West note that evaluating the efficacy of a programme such as the F-35, which is supported by a coordinated marketing campaign designed to reassure American taxpayers about their money’s worth and present the aircraft as a worthwhile investment for foreign allies, is quite challenging. This is further complicated by the legislation and secrecy prevalent in Russia.

While exact data on the Su-57’s radar cross-section is not available, Western experts assert that, due to airframe complications, it possesses the lowest stealth capability among fifth-generation aircraft.

Western experts say the Su-57 does not compete as the stealthiest fighter. Although it may not be the most technologically advanced or covert fifth-generation fighter currently available, the Su-57 embodies Russia’s extensive and illustrious heritage of producing exceptionally effective combat aircraft. Experts from the West have confirmed that the Su-57’s three-dimensional thrust vectoring system provides extraordinary manoeuvrability. Thrust vector control empowers the pilot to direct the fighter’s engines in a direction distinct from the fuselage, facilitating exceptionally acute turns or even forward motion while the nose and weapon systems are directed downwards in the direction of the opposing aircraft.

At lower speeds, the Su-57 significantly outperforms the F-35 and J-20A when performing acrobatic manoeuvres. Despite being widely regarded as the most formidable “air-to-air” fighter globally, the thrust vectoring capabilities of the F-22 Raptor pale compared to those of the Su-57. It is important to note, however, that thrust vectoring for acrobatics dissipates a significant portion of the fighter’s speed. This air combat mode is not regarded favourably by all air forces across the globe. The Su-57 is capable of exceeding two Machs, which is the second-fastest speed in its category. This exceeds the F-22 by only a few hundred kilometres per hour.

Western experts assert that rather than exclusively depending on stealth, an area where the Russian aviation industry might fall behind, Sukhoi has integrated stealth capabilities into the platform’s design. As a result, the fighter may not be as “stealthy” as the F-35, but it nonetheless poses real problems for the adversary.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


More Articles Like This