Tuesday, May 24, 2022

1st Combat Deployment! Russian Su-57 Stealth Fighter Jets Spotted Over Northern Ukraine Before Crucial Peace Talks

As Turkey prepares to broker peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv, a video doing the rounds on social media purportedly shows Russia’s most advanced stealth aircraft, Sukhoi-57, flying over the northern region of Ukraine. 

Foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia arrived in Turkey on March 10 for a face-to-face meeting, the first time since the two countries went to war two weeks back. The meeting comes after several rounds of discussions between the two sides in Belarus.

The fifth-generation Su-57 ‘Felon’ is a heavyweight fighter. There is speculation that Russia’s Southern Military District deployed the jet to Ukraine.

According to local media reports, a fighter similar to the Su-57 was spotted in the Zhytomyr region of Ukraine, hours before the two foreign ministers arrived in Turkey.

The video was reportedly filmed in the Berdichev area of Zhytomyr. It purportedly shows the fighter aircraft carrying out a strike, presumably targeting the Berdychiv bridge over the Teterev river. Local residents claimed that the aircraft had made an unusual sound and looked very similar to the fifth-generation Su-57 in terms of its design.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has not yet officially announced the use of this combat aircraft in Ukraine.

First Combat Deployment?

If true, this would be the first instance of the Russian stealth fighter being deployed to an actual combat mission. In 2018 and 2019, a prototype of this plane was sent to the Khmeimim Airbase in Syria.

During one of these trials, the Su-57 fired a cruise missile, probably a Kh-59MK2, and performed a total of 10 flights.

Su-57
Su-57 (File photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Military analysts, however, believe that the Russian aerial combat in Ukraine would involve Su-35s instead of Su-57s. 

The Su-57 is a single-seat, twin-engine multi-role fighter developed by Sukhoi. It has been designed for aerial combat as well as ground and maritime strikes. It is intended to succeed the aircraft of earlier generations such as the MiG-29 and Su-27 of the Russian military.

The radar cross-section (RCS) area of the Su-57 is supposed to be thirty times smaller than that of the Su-27. The RCS reducing features are more apparent in the forward half of the aircraft, unlike American stealth designs such as F-22 Raptors or F-35, probably as a result of cost-cutting. It could be also due to the Russian doctrine of operating the aircraft within the cover of friendly integrated air defense systems.

Su-57
Su-57 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Su-57 is designed to have high endurance and the ability to maneuver in all aircraft axes. It is equipped with highly integrated advanced sensor systems to enable simultaneous tracking of up to 60 targets using six radars onboard.

The fighter can carry four medium-range K-77M air-to-air missiles with AESA seeker for beyond visual range (BVR) combat which it uses as its primary armament; two short-range infrared homing K-74M2 missiles. In addition, the aircraft can be equipped with a host of precision-guided bombs, air-to-ground missiles, anti-ship missiles, anti-radiation missiles and cruise missiles

The fighter jet has a 30 mm autocannon with 150 cartridges, which has an effective range of 800 meters against aerial targets and 1800 meters against surface targets.

Analysts Show Skepticism

The first Su-57 entered service with the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) in December 2020. A total of four aircraft have been produced so far, out of which the first one crashed in 2019, before being delivered to the military and the third and fourth aircraft were delivered to the VKS during the last quarter of 2021.

This means that at present, Russia’s Su-57 fleet consists of only three aircraft, excluding the prototypes. Considering this, it seems unlikely that Moscow would deploy this high-end fighter aircraft to Ukraine as it lacks operational preparedness for high or medium-intensity combat.

Su-57
Su-57 (Wikimedia Commons)

Also, it would be a highly risky proposition — politically for Moscow and commercially for Su-57’s prospective exports — to use this aircraft in a real war at this moment.

The efficacy of the Su-57 already remains shrouded in mystery as even India, Russia’s trusted security partner, had backed out of a co-development deal for this aircraft in 2018 following the Indian Air Force criticizing the fighter jet’s radar inadequacies and bad stealth features. 

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