Is the Russian Su-57 Stealth Fighter just a paper tiger?

The Russians experienced start-up problems with the Sukhoi Su-57 “Bandit”, Russia’s entry into the fifth generation stealth fighter contest. Teething problems that make the American The F-35’s growing pains seem tiny in comparison. Yes, the “Felon” was inadvertently gave free publicity from the creators of the box office blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick. However, cinematic fiction could not make up for the fact that the beleaguered Russian stealth warbird lagged behind both it’s american and Chinese counterparts in terms of operational deployment time and overall quality ranking.

Su-57 stealth fighter. Image credit: Wikicommons.

To make matters worse for the sake of Vladimir Putin’s airpower prestige, earlier in June a meager total of 16 airframes had been produced, 10 of which were test models. So, has the situation of the Su-57 improved since then? We’ll take a look.

fickle felon

According to various sources, the Su-57 continues to be produced, slowly but surely. For example, Greg Waldron, Asia Editor of FlightGlobal, recently quoted United Aircraft of Russia (UAC) General Director Yuri Slyusar, who said that along with the construction of four prototypes of the Su-75 Checkmate single-engine fighter – another troubled program in its own right, with “75” an oddly coincident inverse/anagram of “57” – “four additional Su-57s were built under a Ministry of Defense contract. According to TASS, the Russian military will have a total of 22 of the stealth type by the end of 2024, and that number will increase to 76 by 2028.” A pretty rosy scenario picture painted there by Tovarish (“Comrade”) Skyusar.

Meanwhile, as part of Putin’s latest public relations campaign, he gave the opening speech at this week’s ARMY-2022 international military exhibition at a military park outside Moscow. In the speech, Mr Putin claimed that Moscow’s military hardware was “decades ahead” of its foreign competitors, adding that “[We] are ready to offer our allies the most modern types of weapons, from small arms to armored vehicles and from artillery to combat aviation and unmanned aerial vehicles. Almost all of them have seen more than one use in real combat operations.

At least one Su-57 was on display at the exhibition, although the Moscow time photo caption did not bother to elaborate as to whether this particular specimen was actually airworthy.

Fight Felon?

So, regarding Putin’s statement about use “in real combat operations,” does that include the Su-57? The details, unsurprisingly, are a bit sketchy.

On the one hand, Russian propaganda, uh, official state media said the following back in June:

“During a special operation in Ukraine, Russia deployed a flight of four Su-57 fighter jets linked in a single information network to destroy air defense systems, an informed source told RIA Novosti. “As part of the NMD, the Russian Aerospace Forces conducted an operation to identify and destroy Ukrainian air defense systems using a flight of four new Su-57 multifunctional fighters. The aircraft were combined into an information network through automatic communication, data transmission, navigation and real-time identification systems – the agency source said. The source noted that “the combination of the aircraft in a single information space increases the efficiency of identifying and hitting targets”. He also said that the low radar visibility of the Su-57 was confirmed.

However, I have yet to come across any independent verification of the claims in this report; If any of our readers have such sources of information, please let us know in the comments so you can do so without fear of reprisal! (As a side note, there’s that Russian use of their beloved “special military operation” euphemism again; isn’t that just special!)

Indeed, many Western experts (who the Russians in turn will no doubt dismiss as mere propagandists) seriously doubt that the Felon is used in combat much, if at all. For example, my 19FortyFive colleague Brent M. Eastwood posits that “the Felon is susceptible only firing missiles from a distance outside of Ukrainian air defenses, and this can happen in Russian airspace and not Ukrainian airspace.

If so, then the missiles in question are most likely the R-77M variant of the Vympel NPO R-77 missile (NATO reporting name: AA-12 Adder) and/or possibly the Izdelia 810 variant of the R-37M (NATO reporting name: AA-13 “Axehead”), although officially the latter weapon system is not expected to be operational until December.

Stealth Su-57

Russian Su-57 stealth fighter. Image: Creative Commons.

There’s that old cynical adage, “The first casualty of war is the truth.” Trying to determine whether the Russian “Felon” inflicted and/or suffered any real casualties remains a question mark for us Western observers.

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal Law Enforcement Officer, and private military contractor (with assignments in Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany and the Pentagon). Chris holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an MA in Intelligence Studies (Terrorism Studies Concentration) from the American Military University (AMU). It was also published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cybersecurity. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of United States Naval Order (US). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, restaurants, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and professional sports in Washington DC.

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