Close analysis of the Su-57 and F-35 fifth-generation fighters reveals a highly technical and sophisticated contest in terms of advantages and disadvantages.

The importance of stealth in fighter technology

The paramount role of stealth in these fighters cannot be underestimated, as it provides a strategic advantage to both the US F-35 and Russia’s Su-57. Talk about the F-35’s ability to detect and track the Su-57, despite the latter’s superior range, has garnered quite a bit of attention.

F-35 safe from AESA from Su-57 but not from passive sensors

The F-35 has more developed technology, including its AN/APG-81, which can detect the Su-57, even with its limited effectiveness against low cross-section aircraft. According to experts, this is valid only if the Su-57 does not employ its stealth technologies.

The stealthiness of these planes is not limited to their anti-radar coating but is part of a broader set of technological systems where sensors are just as crucial.

The role of radar N036 Byelka and AN/APG-81

The Su-57’s N036 Byelka radar, Russia’s first mass-produced AESA radar, is an excellent component with a range superior to that of the AN/APG-81. It is capable of tracking more targets, both air and ground and simultaneously.

F-35 safe from AESA from Su-57 but not from passive sensors

Both radars can quickly scan large areas thanks to their electronic scanning and detection beam capabilities. However, no proof exists that the N036 Byelka can detect stealth fighters in the air.

Su-57 and its complex sensor system

The Su-57 possesses a combination of sensors within its stealth technology that could pose a threat to the F-35. Unlike the N036 Byelka, this passive sensor suite appears to have a more effective ability to detect and track the F-35.

F-35 safe from AESA from Su-57 but not from passive sensors

Details of how these sensors could outperform the F-35’s stealth technology are unclear and will require further research and testing. What is clear is that these advanced technologies pose a considerable challenge in the theater of modern aerial warfare.

The Su-57’s passive sensor technology and its impact on the battlefield

A defining feature of the Su-57 is its collection of passive sensors, which are billed as a more effective tool against the F-35 than the Russian plane’s own AESA radar. Unlike active radars, this is because its operation does not emit signals, making it difficult for enemy defenses to detect them.

F-35 safe from AESA from Su-57 but not from passive sensors

This stealth advantage allows the Su-57 to close in on enemy targets and launch attacks undetected, making it a considerable threat to its adversaries, even those equipped with cutting-edge technology.

As we already mentioned above, at a suitable distance and without using the stealth characteristics of the Su-57, the F-35 can intercept and track the Russian fighter. However, the presence of this passive sensor system compensates for this vulnerability and significantly changes the confrontation dynamics.

The components of the Su-57 passive sensor suite

F-35 safe from AESA from Su-57 but not from passive sensors
Artist’s rendering of the Su-57. Image credit: Creative Commons.

The Su-57’s passive sensor suite is an amalgamation of various devices, including infrared, radio frequency, and electro-optical sensors. These were designed to work together to provide the pilot with a comprehensive view of the battlefield, making it easier to identify and track enemy aircraft, ground vehicles, and other potential targets.

The operation of these passive sensors lies in the detection of electromagnetic radiation emitted by other sources. Examples of these are radio and television broadcasts, mobile phone signals, and even the heat generated by aircraft engines. In this way, the sensor system does not search directly for the main radar beams but for secondary activities that are difficult to hide under the shadow of stealth technology.

F-35 safe from AESA from Su-57 but not from passive sensors
F-35A of the Italian Air Force in flight over Iceland. — Stock photography

In addition to these functionalities, the Su-57’s passive sensor package has advanced processing capabilities. This allows the aircraft to quickly analyze and interpret the data collected, allowing the pilot to make informed decisions on engaging enemy targets and evading potential threats.

How the Su-57’s passive sensors change the air combat paradigm

The Su-57’s use of passive sensors represents an evolution in air combat strategy, a change that directly impacts its engagements with aircraft like the F-35. By not relying on radar emissions to locate its targets, the Su-57 can operate with a degree of stealth unavailable to its competitors, which can translate to a critical advantage on the battlefield.

This change in air combat dynamics could lead to a rethinking of defensive and offensive strategies by armed forces that operate aircraft like the F-35. This evolution of technology and tactics is just one example of how the continuing arms race can alter the global military landscape.

Su-57 Engines: A Mechanical Superiority

F-35 safe from AESA from Su-57 but not from passive sensors

One of the most outstanding advantages of the Su-57 lies in its powerful engines. It benefits from the power of two after-burning Saturn AL-41F1 turbofans, each providing a maximum thrust of 32,500 pounds.

This mechanical arrangement gives the Su-57 considerable superiority in terms of speed and maneuverability over its competitor, the F-35, which relies on a single Pratt & Whitney F135 engine with a maximum thrust of 43,000 pounds.

In addition, the Su-57’s engines feature a higher thrust-to-weight ratio, which translates into faster acceleration and the ability to reach higher altitudes compared to the F-35.

Su-57 Weapons Capabilities: Longer Range and Versatility

The Su-57 shows superiority in terms of weapons capacity. Its arsenal includes a wider variety of weapons, spanning air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, and bombs, as opposed to the F-35.

An illustrative example is the Su-57’s ability to carry the R-37M air-to-air missile, which has a range of up to 400 km and can hit targets at an altitude of up to 30 km. In contrast, the F-35 can only carry the AIM-120 air-to-air missile, with a range of 100 miles.

Therefore, the weapons of the Su-57 are not only more varied but also technologically more advanced than those of the F-35.

Su-57 Electronic Warfare Systems: Jamming and Protection

Another advantage of the Su-57 lies in its sophisticated electronic warfare [EW] system. This system includes a jamming pod capable of jamming enemy radars and communication systems, giving it a great advantage on the battlefield.

Additionally, the Su-57 has a towed decoy system that can deflect enemy missiles, thus increasing its survivability on the battlefield.

For its part, the F-35 has an advanced EW system. However, it does not reach the same level of capacity as that of the Su-57.

Frequently asked questions about a confrontation between the F-35 and the Su-57.

What is the main advantage of stealth in the F-35 and Su-57 fighters?

Stealth provides a strategic advantage to both the US F-35 and Russia’s Su-57. Despite advanced detection technologies, it allows these aircraft close in on enemy targets and launches attacks without being detected.

What is the N036 Byelka radar on the Su-57, and how does it compare to the AN/APG-81 on the F-35?

The Su-57’s N036 Byelka radar is Russia’s first mass-produced AESA radar. It has a greater range than the F-35’s AN/APG-81 and can track more targets at once, both air and ground. Despite its superior range, no proof exists that it can detect stealth fighters in the air.

How do the Su-57’s passive sensors work, and how do they affect the F-35?

The Su-57’s passive sensors can detect and track the F-35, even when it employs its stealth technology. These sensors detect electromagnetic radiation emitted by other sources, such as radio and television broadcasts or heat generated by aircraft engines. This makes it difficult for the F-35 to detect and significantly alters the combat dynamics between the two aircraft.

What are the advantages of the Su-57 engines compared to the F-35?

The Su-57 benefits from two Saturn AL-41F1 after-burning turbofans, giving it an advantage in terms of speed and maneuverability over the F-35, which relies on a single Pratt & Whitney F135 engine. The Su-57’s engines also have a higher thrust-to-weight ratio, which translates to faster acceleration and the ability to reach higher altitudes.

How are the weapons capabilities of the Su-57 compared to the F-35?

The Su-57 has superiority in terms of firepower, carrying a wider variety of weapons, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, and bombs. An example of this superiority is the Su-57’s ability to carry the R-37M air-to-air missile, with a range of up to 400 km. In contrast, the F-35 can only carry the AIM-120 air-to-air missile, with a range limited to 100 miles.