This week, a short video from the Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi was shared on social media. It’s basically a “presentation video” of its Su-57 (known in NATO as “Felon”), highlighting how the plane is pushing the limits of aeronautical design.
Russian authorities have long touted the fifth-generation fighter for its “advanced” stealth technology that extensively uses composite materials. The Kremlin has previously asserted that the Su-57 is capable of supersonic cruising speed and the destruction of various aerial, terrestrial, and maritime targets.
Is the Su-57 all hype and cymbal?
Despite Russia’s continued promotion of the Su-57, Western aviation experts have said, Moscow lacks the manufacturing capacity to construct the plane in large numbers, suggesting that the fighter is just hype.
The fact that the Su-57 first took to the air in January 2010 but won’t enter service until December 2020 is evidence of this.
The United States Air Force is attempting to phase out the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, the service’s first fifth-generation air dominance fighter because a decade can feel like an eternity for “modern” military equipment.
Even if the Su-57 was as cutting-edge as Russian specialists claim, it would not stand the test of time. Rather than being remembered for its impressive features, the Su-57 should be remembered for the delays that plagued its development.
Apparently, problems arose with its initial airframe, forcing the prototypes to be redesigned.
Aviation expert Chris Bolton went so far as to point out on social media last year: “The Russian Su-57 ‘stealth’ fighter has a radar cross-section comparable to that of a clean F/A-18 Super Hornet, and about a thousand times greater than that of the F-35”.
“The Russian fleet of Felons consists of 12 hand-built prototypes with varying degrees of finish and only two production jets…”
Other experts have also questioned whether the Felon should really be described as a stealth aircraft and have suggested that in a head-to-head fight, the Su-57 would be hopelessly outmatched when pitted against the Lockheed Martin F-35.
In terms of design, the Russian fighter is more akin to a sophisticated fourth-generation fighter than a true fifth-generation aircraft. The Su-57 may be harder to identify than an F-15 Eagle or F-16 Fighting Falcon, but its cross-section is far larger than its key fifth-generation competitors.
Not used in Ukraine
These facts explain why the Kremlin has not deployed it over the skies of Ukraine. Instead, its role in combat has been primarily to fire weapons from the safety of Russian airspace.
It’s clear that the Russian authorities don’t think its stealth is good enough to send it over enemy territory. Beyond these issues, the other factor is still the numbers. Russia simply can’t reach series production and has built fewer than two dozen.
There just aren’t enough Felons for it to be the game-changer Moscow claims it will be, even if it lives up to the promise.
The United States would have canceled the project several times if given a chance, but the Kremlin has dug itself into such a deep hole that it appears their only alternative is to press on anyhow and hope for the best.