From AI-powered data links to new radar-absorbent fiberglass.

As the Russian Air Force continues to conduct combat tests of its new Su-57 fighters in Ukraine, of which 10 are currently in service, and 10-14 more are expected to join the fleet this year, new information has emerged about a number of new technologies being developed for the aircraft.

The fighter has long boasted a number of unique features to make up for its more limited stealth capabilities and less sophisticated electronics compared to rival Chinese and US fighters, ranging from access to hypersonic ballistic missiles and laser defense systems to the deployment of air-to-air air missiles with extreme ranges or with unique guidance systems by active phased array antennas.

In early April, Ruselectronics claimed that new radar-absorbing material had been developed to seriously improve Russian aircraft’s radar evasion capabilities and absorb up to 95 percent of radar waves. 

The use of low-reflectivity fiberglass was presented as a highly beneficial alternative to stealth skins used on Chinese and US stealth aircraft due to its much lower maintenance needs.

The application of stealth coatings has been a major cause of the low availability rates of US stealth aircraft, as well as a major cause of their high operating costs, which means that new Russian radar-absorbent material, if successful, could provide the Su-57 with a significant advantage, complementing the fighter’s already significant focus on low operating costs and the ability to operate with a tight logistical footprint.

Russia incorporates the latest technologies in the new Su-57 fighter.

It is not yet known when the new material can be considered ready for use in military aircraft, nor which will be the first to use it, but the Su-57 is one of the main candidates since it is currently the only manned stealth aircraft in Russia.

Another recently revealed new technology that has been developed for the fighter is a data link system that, according to a press release from the Russian corporation Rostec, uses artificial intelligence to encode data and transfer it between platforms, enabling encryption immunity to noise by using parallel channels.

This has significant implications for the Su-57’s network-centric warfare capabilities, which are seen as increasingly critical in fifth- and sixth-generation aerial warfare and are a focal point of all next-generation combat aviation programs. 

For the Su-57, which is reportedly becoming a controller aircraft that will operate alongside UAVs like the S-70 Okhotnik, the ability to communicate and transmit data from its massive sensor suite, comprised of six radars and an IRST system, is especially important.

To counter enemy stealth aircraft and make up for the Su-57’s inferior stealth capabilities when compared to rival Chinese and American aircraft, data sharing between multiple sensors, including ground-based radars that are part of Russia’s vast air defense network, is one of the most effective ways.

The Su-57, which began development in the early 2000s after the cancellation of the promising MiG 1.42 fifth-generation fighter program, was considered better suited to the constraints of the industry and defense budget of post-Soviet Russia and; according to some estimates, it could be manufactured at only half the price of the MiG. It appears that its operating costs do not significantly exceed those of previous fourth-generation fighters.

However, multiple delays have seen the first full Su-57 squadron form almost a decade behind initial forecasts, putting the program well behind the more ambitious Chinese J-20 and F-35 American.

However, the fighter is expected to revolutionize the capabilities of the Russian Air Force by replacing the Su-27 Flanker and its derivatives, the Su-30 and the Su-35, in production and front-line service and in the arsenals of the main customers of Russian aviation, including Algeria and Vietnam.

Deployments to Ukraine have provided Su-57 operators far greater combat experience than any other fighter of its generation, including air-to-air combat and employment against a well-armed state actor for missions. Attack and even air defense suppression.

These missions have revealed a degree of combat readiness that may surpass that of the best Western stealth fighter, the F-35, which suffers from some 800 performance failures, is still considered far from ready for such high-level combat. The intensity and lacks of compatibility with the cruise missile classes needed to carry out similar operations.

Military Watch Magazine