Russia’s Su-57 Leaves US F-35, F-22 and the Chinese J-20 Far Behind in Combat Experience

Su-57 Production Increases as Russia is Eying Growing Role for the Fighter.

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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

The Russian Su-57 can be considered the most battle-tested fifth-generation fighter aircraft. Despite entering service more than a decade ago, the US and Chinese fifth-generation aircraft have not witnessed meaningful combat. So far, the F-35 has intercepted and eliminated one of the Houthis cruise missiles. Its mission record is limited. 

Then there’s the F-22 Raptor, which operates on an “all or nothing” approach. As its service term comes to an end, this first stealth fighter has only shot down one Chinese aerial target: a hot air balloon. Given the exorbitant $300 million per unit pricing, there is little to brag about. With each passing year, the F-22 appears to have fewer and fewer possibilities to improve its operational capability. 

The less we talk about Chinese J-20 aircraft and combat, the better.

By contrast, the Russian Su-57 has repeatedly proven itself in combat, destroying Ukrainian Soviet-era and modern Western air defence systems and several Ukrainian combat aircraft. 

The use of the Su-57 in Ukraine was first reported in June 2022 by Yuri Borisov, who then held the post of Deputy Prime Minister. “We repeatedly used single sorties and several aircraft in coordination and used aviation weapons in information interaction,” Borisov said, adding that the fighters showed high efficiency.

In an interview with the Rossiya 24 Tele Vision channel in October 2022, Sergey Surovikin, the then-Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces, discussed using Su-57 aircraft in Ukraine. According to him, during a special operation, the Su-57 completes “multifaceted tasks” to defeat both air and ground targets. “Having a wide range of weapons in each flight solves multifaceted tasks of hitting air and ground targets,” he said.

In February 2023, Denis Manturov, the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Industry and Trade chairman, announced these planes’ “successful use” on the front lines without revealing what weapons were deployed. 

Evidence suggests that the Su-57 is a highly effective and reliable aircraft. Despite keeping a safe distance, its role in the Ukraine war is significant. However, Russia’s opponents often fail to admit the Su-57’s contribution to the Ukrainian conflict. A handful of Western media and academics reluctantly acknowledge that the Su-57 has accomplished some things that Russia may be proud of.

Air to Air Stand Off

According to some Western reports, the Su-57 holds the world record for the longest-range air-to-air kill. 

Military experts believe Russian planes, not the previously believed S-300V4 surface-to-air missiles, were responsible for downing Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 and Su-24 jets over Ukraine. According to their analysis, the Ukrainian jets were hit 217 kilometres from the missile launch site. 

According to analysts, the Su-57’s primary air-to-air missile, the R-77M, has a maximum range of 200 km. They acknowledge that the long-range R-37M missile can strike aerial targets from 400 kilometres distant, but it is not designed to take out small, manoeuvrable jets.

Air to Ground Stand off

It came to light in February 2024 that Su-57s were firing Kh-69 missiles into Ukraine.

There is no denying that these missiles have caused damage in Ukraine.

This weapon was built with the Su-57’s features in mind; its dimensions precisely fit the aircraft’s internal weapon bays. The missile’s range exceeds 300 kilometres, giving it a major advantage when dodging opponent air defence control zones. Furthermore, its revolutionary engine design offers exceptional endurance.

Despite its deceptively light weight of 770 kg, the X-69 missile packs a powerful punch. Furthermore, its modular design allows for task-specific customisation, such as selecting an appropriate warhead (fragmentation, concrete-penetrating, or even cassette variations) adapted to the individual mission.

The X-69’s creators confidently claim that it is one of Russia’s most accurate guided missiles, with an astounding margin of error of only three metres. The missile’s peculiar shape and unique materials give a dispersion area outperforming its Western rivals, notably the Franco-British Scalp EG/Storm Shadow, the American AGM-158 JASSM, and the German Taurus.

Simply said, this is the type of weapon required for an aircraft aiming for stealth. Essentially, the goal of producing the X-69 has been successfully demonstrated: by the time enemy air defence systems detect this missile, it will be too late to react effectively.

Can NATO electronic reconnaissance detect the Su-57? The underlying question remains: if they can’t detect the Su-57, how will they detect the stealth missiles it fires?

Ramping Up Production With Combat Feedback

The Russian media reported in November 2023 that “Rostec” intends to significantly increase the production rates of fifth-generation fighter jets Su-57 in 2023, as announced by the First Deputy Director General of the State Corporation Vladimir Artyakov in an interview with RIA Novosti ahead of the international military-technical forum “Army-2023.”

“We are fully fulfilling our obligations to the Ministry of Defense. Currently, the aircraft is undergoing operational testing in the Russian Aerospace Forces. This year, our cooperation led by the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) plans to significantly increase the pace of production of these aircraft in accordance with the state contract,” Artyakov said. He added that simultaneously, the Su-57 platform is evolving. “Its combat capabilities are growing, and the most advanced technologies are being introduced into the aircraft. In other words, its effectiveness continues to increase,” noted the first deputy head of Rostec.

Serial deliveries of the Su-57 started in 2022. The Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) are projected to receive 22 jets by the end of 2024, with the number of fighters in the armed forces increasing to 76 by 2028.


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