Algeria has signed a contract to purchase 14 Su-57 next-generation heavyweight fighters from Russia for about $2 billion, according to various media reports. This will make Algeria the first foreign customer of the high-end Russian fighter jet after it entered mass production in July 2019.
Algeria has been the priority client for most advanced Russian weapons systems, and the acquisition of the Su-57 fighters is the latest example. The country has armed its troops with high-end weapons and air-defense systems procured from Russia. For instance, Algeria has acquired the S-400 and Pantsir-SM air defense systems, Iskander ballistic missiles, and MiG-25 Foxbat interceptors.
The Algerian Air Force is armed with premiere Russian fighters, including the Su-30MKA fighter, the MiG-29C medium fighter, the Su-24M dedicated strike fighter, and a single elite unit of heavily enhanced MiG-25 Foxbat interceptors.
Some media reports said Algeria’s acquisition of the Russian fifth-generation aircraft is in response to its rival Morocco buying F-16 Vipers from its ally, the US. If true, this is the first time that a fifth-generation stealth aircraft will be inducted by any country’s air force in Africa.
However, Eurasian Times could not confirm the veracity of the news reports emanating from multiple sources in different countries. Especially, since the Rostec aviation complex’s Industrial Director Anatoly Serdyukov told RBC news service in September 2020 that “until we supply enough machines to our own army, there will hardly be a noticeable demand on the foreign market.”
“The number one task now is to supply the (Su-57) aircraft to the Russian Armed Forces,” he said, adding that it was too early to supply fighters to foreign countries at this moment, although sales pitches were happening.
The Russian state-owned company Rosoboronexport also indicated that Moscow plans to present its fifth-generation tech to international markets in the next 5-7 years, including the Armata tank and the fifth-generation Su-57 fighter.
Therefore, it seems unlikely that Algeria could have inked the deal with Russia to acquire the Su-57 aircraft, especially when there has been no statement from either of the countries. Although the country does intend to procure the fifth-generation aircraft from Russia, which it confirmed in 2019 itself.
Moreover, Russia’s needs will always take priority over export, so unless the Russian Air Force doesn’t get the new jets it is unlikely to be exported to other countries. The Su-57 also does not yet have its export license, which is a necessary condition for any foreign sale of Russian military equipment, which reduces the odds of any non-Russian country flying the Su-57 before 2027 to zero.
Need for a Stealth Jet in India
India had withdrawn from the fifth-generation fighter aircraft program (FGFA) with Russia, a shared effort that was supposed to produce an improved variant of the Su-57 stealth fighter.
The Indian government had been facing significant issues with the program, with big delays and capacity shortfalls, forcing it to abandon the project altogether after many years of deliberations and struggles.
Many experts believed the joint program would have helped India save time and money by starting with an established design since the fifth-generation fighter jet programs end up being extremely complex, costly, and time-consuming affairs.
Experts believed sharing the program between the two countries could have been a win-win situation for both parties.
However, India still has a critical requirement of a fifth-generation fighter and there are no indications on how it will be achieved. The country’s own Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft program (AMCA) is a long-term effort and may take many more years to complete.
Even the Indian defense analysts have pointed out many flaws in the AMCA design, saying the fighter seems to focus on paradigms of combat that have long since been bypassed.
As Abhijit Iyer-Mitra writes in the Print, there is too much emphasis on engine thrust and thrust vectoring despite close-range air combat having moved away from G-force maneuvering to get into an attack position to Angle of Attack, which emphasizes maintaining power and recovery from a steep maneuver.
He continues, “AMCA focuses on continuing emphasis on kinetics as opposed to understanding that a fifth-generation aircraft is essentially a computer in the air, able to cut short the processing time, and reduce the ‘detect to kill chain’ (the time taken between detecting and killing an aircraft – essentially the ability to detect first and shoot first, and in the case of stealth, hopefully, avoid being detected) by several tens of seconds (the difference between life and death).”
It seems even if AMCA is flight-worthy in the next 5-6 years, it still lacks many cutting-edge combat innovations which are a trend in the foreign fifth-generation aircraft.
India also doesn’t have an option for acquiring the fifth-generation fighter from its ally, the United States, which is unlikely to part away from its advanced F-35 fighter. That leaves the country without an option.
The Indian experts opine that India will be unable to counter China’s PLA Air Force if it is made to wait a decade more for its fifth-generation fighter. Therefore, the acquisition of the Su-57 fighter jet is the only feasible option for the Indian Air Force, if it intends to stay in the game.