On August 11, Russia named its new stealth fighter the Su-57, but despite having a name, a finalised design, and a tentative date for its delivery, it already looks like a huge disappointment.
Russia first flew the Su-57 in 2010, demonstrating that it would enter the race towards fifth-generation aircraft after the US revolutionised aerial combat with the F-22, and later the F-35.
But in the years since, the Su-57 has failed to present a seriously viable future for Russian military aviation. Russia already fields some of the most manoeuvrable planes on earth. It has serious firepower in terms of missiles and bombs, and long-distance bombers and fighters. But what Russia doesn’t have is a stealth jet of any kind.
While Russian media calls the Su-57 an “aerial ghost,” a senior scientist working on stealth aircraft for the US called it a “dirty aircraft,” with many glaring flaws that would light up radars scanning for the plane.
Additionally, two of the plane’s most fearsome weapons, the Kh-35UEm a subsonic, anti-ship cruise missile, and the nuclear-capable BrahMos-A supersonic cruise missile, can’t fit in the internal weapons bay and must hang from the wings, as the Diplomat’s Franz-Stefan Gady reports.
Since a stealth plane needs every single angle of the jet to perfectly contour to baffle radars, hanging weapons off the wings absolutely kills stealth.
But stealth is just one of the Su-57s problems. The other is the engine. Unlike US stealth jets that have new engines, the Su-57 currently flies with the same engine that powers Russia’s last generation of fighters.
Russia plans to get new engines in the Su-57 by the end of 2017 for testing, but it likely won’t be ready for use by 2025, The National Interest’s Dave Majumdar reports.
Additionally, Majumdar reports that Moscow will only buy 12 of the planes by 2019 and perhaps never more than 60 in total.
Though Russian media boasts the Su-57 can be piloted remotely and handle extreme G forces, the combination of a lack of stealth and a lack of truly modern propulsion has caused critics to say the plane is fifth-generation “in name only.”
Whatever the plane’s performance is, the low buy numbers out of Moscow indicate that the budding Su-57 is already a flop.