Russian Sukhoi-57 (SU-57), the latest Russian fighter jet, is undergoing unmanned testing if Russian media reports are to be believed. The SU-57 will be the latest addition to the Russian Air Force as Moscow tries to compete with other fifth-generation fighters.
Experts talking to EurAsian Times believe that the SU-57 would modernize the Russian fleet and be a formidable opponent to the American F-22s and F-35s, both of whom are classified as fifth-generation fighter jets.
According to RIA Novosti, an arm of the Russian news outlet, the SU-57 is flying unmanned at an undisclosed location in Russia. Novosti cites an unmanned source which claims that the fighter jet is flying with a pilot, but the pilot is only present to monitor the aircraft’s system.
An unmanned fighter plane is an unconventional approach to aerial combat. Countries such as the United States, China and Japan usually assist their fighter jets with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) while Moscow is aiming to combine UAVs with unmanned aircraft.
The Russians currently do not have an operational fifth-generation fighter like the American F-35s, F-22s or even the Chinese J-20s. If the SU-57 tests are successful, the Russian Air Force could have state of the art technology at its disposal and the only unmanned fighter jet in the world.
Sukhoi-57 vs F-22 & F-35
For the Americans and in fact much of the world, the F-22 and F-35 signal American air dominance and prowess. However, with the arrival of the SU-57, the Russians are confident that they would soon rule the skies.
In fact, they are so confident that they named the place ‘SU-57’ because it combines the best of both F-22 and F-35 and if you add the suffix for both the planes you get 57.
As usual, Moscow has kept the details of the aircraft a secret but leaked reports on the internet do give some fascinating insights. Experts believe the SU-57 is an evolution of the SU-27 Flanker’s shape, modernized for low radar observability but also even greater manoeuvrability.
Aviation author Piotr Butowski claims that its high static instability makes it more manoeuvrable than any modern fighter plane. The blended wing design increases internal volume for avionics, fuel and weapons.
The major component of the SU-57’s performance is its two engines. The Saturn izdeliye 30 engines are each meant to generate between 24,054 and 35,556 pounds of thrust, with the high end in the same territory as the F-22’s F119 engines.
These are meant to drive the fighter to speeds of up to Mach 1.5 in supercruise. The SU-57 will equip with the N056 Byelka (“squirrel”) radar system and the L402 electronic countermeasures suite. L-band arrays will be the fighter’s primary means of detecting stealth aircraft, while at shorter ranges the 101KS Atoll electro-optical suite, including an infrared search and track system, will help the pilot track and engage targets with infrared-guided missiles.
In comparison to the F-22 Raptor, the SU-57 has two large internal weapons bay. Each bay can carry up to 4 K-77 M and the K-74M2 missiles. The former is a beyond visual range radar-guided missile and has the capability to engage agile targets up to a 100 miles.
The SU-57 is heavily inclined towards manoeuvrability and speed while its counterparts in Washington rely on manoeuvrability and stealth. This makes the competition interesting since the Americans would look to detect the SU-57 plane early and engage with it without showing on the radar but the combination of manoeuvrability and infra-red search and track from the Russian plane will make it a lethal opponent.
When will we see the SU-57?
Although the first SU-57 flight off in 2010, the company behind the production of the aircraft is yet to deliver the fifth-generation fighter. Moscow flew prototypes of the SU-57 in Syria in 2018 and it was announced that the plane would soon be delivered to Moscow.
The Russian Air Force was scheduled to receive a delivery of 2 aeroplanes in 2019 and an additional 2 in 2020 but the crash of a test SU-57 near Khabarovsk has stalled the process.
However, Russian defence officials remain confident that the Air Force will get the delivery of the first batch of planes this year. “Large-scale work awaits us in 2020 to stabilize the aircraft industry,” the head of Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, was quoted as saying in December 2019 by TASS news agency. “The first large-scale deliveries of the fifth-generation SU-57 aircraft will begin,” he said.
Vladimir Putin aims to have 76 SU-57 by 2028 and a deal for the same was already signed in May 2019 between the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).
While we do expect to see a few SU-57 commissioned into the Russian fleet, it should not be a surprise if COVID-19 pandemic pushes the delivery dates even further. Russia now has the second-highest number of recorded infections as per John Hopkins University and the government would not be hesitant to re-analyse its planned expenditures.
But once the SU-57 does take to the sky, it would join the elite list of fifth-generation fighters in the world along with the U.S.’s F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and Chinese J-20.