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Explained: Why Russia's Su-57 has an edge over the US F-35

Defence Expert Girish Linganna highlights the Su-57's exceptional capabilities, including stealth technology, supermaneuverability, and smart skin technology, setting the stage for a potential showdown with the American F-35

Explained Why Russia's Su-57 has an edge over the US F-35?
First Published Oct 7, 2023, 10:32 AM IST

In a meeting with Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov in August, Russian President Vladimir Putin advocated boosting the production share of advanced weaponry, highlighting the exemplary performance of the Su-57 and Su-35 fighter aircraft. Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov announced on September 28 that Russian aircraft manufacturers have supplied a group of new fifth-generation Su-57 fighters to the Defense Ministry.

As the head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov reported that the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Plant has recently delivered the next set of Su-57 (Generation 5) and Su-35S (Generation 4++) aircraft to the Russian Air Force.

Yury Slyusar, the President of the Russian United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), stated that the remaining fifth-generation fighters scheduled for delivery in 2023 are currently in the final assembly hangars and undergoing testing at the airfields.

The Russian Su-57, alternatively referred to as the T-50, represents a fifth-generation stealth fighter engineered to succeed the Su-27 series of fighter aircraft. This cutting-edge fighter is furnished with state-of-the-art sensors and avionics, comprising an active electronically scanned array radar and an infrared search and track system. Additionally, it possesses the capability to deploy a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.

The delivery of these aircraft commenced in 2022. As per the current state armament program, the Russian Aerospace Forces are slated to acquire 76 Su-57s by 2027. Information from publicly available sources indicates that prior to the most recent delivery, the Russian Aerospace Forces had six Su-57s in their inventory, and they are anticipated to receive 22 additional fighters by the conclusion of 2024.

Outpacing The F-35

Russia's advanced Su-57 fighter has surged ahead in aerospace technology and is poised for swift deployment, setting the stage for a showdown between the Su-57's exceptional agility and the capabilities of the American F-35. This underscores the combat prowess of the Russian aircraft as it enters service amid the ongoing Ukraine conflict.

The Su-57 also recognized as the PAK-FA (Prospective Aviation Complex of Frontline Aviation) and codenamed "Felon" by NATO, stands as a pioneering fifth-generation fighter aircraft born from the innovative prowess of Russia's Sukhoi Design Bureau. It is meticulously crafted to epitomize exceptional manoeuvrability and state-of-the-art stealth capabilities.

As the most recent addition to the Sukhoi fighter aircraft lineage, this Su-57 represents a worthy successor to the Su-27, known as 'Flanker' by NATO, within the Russian Aerospace Forces. Its mission is multifaceted, including the task of neutralizing all aerial adversaries, conducting precise day and night strikes against ground and surface targets, and excelling in the art of breaching heavily fortified air defences.

In addition to its combat roles, the Su-57 plays a crucial part in performing aerial surveillance from a strategic distance, serving as a vigilant guardian of the skies, far from the adversary's reach.

The fifth-generation Su-57 fighter undergoes a groundbreaking transformation of its capabilities, thanks to state-of-the-art avionics technology that seamlessly blends modern electronics and aerospace engineering. This aircraft attains elevated operational efficiency through advanced radar systems, communication interfaces, and navigation components, granting the pilot unparalleled control and confidence in the midst of combat scenarios.

American Rival to Russia's Su-57

The F-35 comprises a family of advanced American fighter aircraft tailored for roles such as air superiority, strike missions, electronic warfare, and intelligence capabilities. This fifth-generation US fighter plane was developed to succeed the ageing F-16 Fighting Falcon fleet.

The F-35, a single-seat, single-engine aircraft with stealth attributes, was created through collaboration between Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems. It comprises three distinct variants, each tailored to fulfil specific combat roles: the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL), the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL), and the carrier-based variant (CV/CATOBAR). 

This versatile combat aircraft is equipped with cutting-edge aviation technology, rendering it highly adaptable for various combat missions.

In the category of aircraft systems of this calibre, we find their presence in two nations. The first of these is the United States, which produced the F-22 'Raptor' fighter. However, they are quietly preparing for its retirement due to its relatively high operating costs, making it economically impractical. It was succeeded by the F-35 fighter, a versatile aircraft system with three variants: A, B, and C. 

Dmitry Drozdenko, a military analyst and the chief editor of the Arsenal Otechestva internet portal stated that the Su-57 from Russia is the third aircraft in this group or trio of advanced fighter aircraft systems, alongside the American F-22 Raptor' and F-35.

Prominent Features of Sukhoi's Su-57

Drozdenko points out that the Russian fifth-generation fighter aircraft boasts reduced radar visibility and features twin engines, in contrast to the American single-engine fifth-generation fighter jet. 

This design translates to enhanced in-flight survivability. He further noted that F-35s have frequently encountered issues, primarily related to rotor failures or partial engine problems.

The Su-57's capability to attain supermaneuverability stands as its second most notable advantage, distinguishing it from its American counterpart. This exceptional agility is achieved through the utilization of all-aspect nozzles and is further bolstered by an intelligent system. This system proves particularly advantageous in close-quarters combat scenarios, facilitating the execution of unmatched manoeuvres.

An innovation of considerable significance worth highlighting is the integration of groundbreaking "smart skin" technology. This advancement equips the aircraft with an unparalleled capacity to observe its environment in a complete 360-degree range. 

At present, the Su-57 aircraft is undergoing testing for the specialized RVV MD-2 short-range air-to-air missile. Notably, this missile is specifically designed to harness the capabilities of the "smart skin" system, granting it remarkable versatility in deployment across various directions, as emphasized by the military analyst.

This represents its primary distinction. Furthermore, it serves as a versatile system capable of functioning not only as a fighter but also as a bomber. It possesses the capability to execute the complete spectrum of modern aviation tasks, including the potential to control an unmanned wingman," disclosed Dmitry Drozdenko.

"Unmanned wingman" refers to an autonomous unmanned aircraft (like UAVs) that operates in tandem with a piloted aircraft, working collaboratively to achieve various mission objectives.

Combat Deployment

In an August 2022 interview on a Russian TV channel, Russia's Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu commended the outstanding combat performance of the advanced Su-57 fighters in Ukraine. He stated, "We can confidently say that we have deployed and are currently using the Su-57 aircraft. This aircraft has showcased remarkable performance. It possesses a high level of protection against various air defence systems and missile threats, among other capabilities. Furthermore, it is equipped with exceptionally potent weaponry. We have thoroughly tested and verified these weapons, and they have proven to be highly effective; I can't find a better way to describe it."

Su-57 vs F-35

Drozdenko highlights that the importance of the Su-57's supermaneuverability would become evident in a real combat situation, especially in what is commonly referred to as a "dogfight." The aircraft's capacity to swiftly perform agile manoeuvres becomes exceptionally critical in close-range confrontations.

For instance, when an adversary positions itself behind the aircraft, the Su-57 can promptly respond by rapidly changing its course. Furthermore, the aircraft's ability to execute reverse manoeuvres in a matter of seconds, typically around three or four, offers a significant advantage. 

In contrast, the F-35, for example, takes approximately 20 seconds to perform the same manoeuvre. This distinction can play a crucial role in determining the outcome of an engagement. The Su-57's swift response could potentially evade an incoming enemy missile while performing these agile manoeuvres, whereas the F-35 might remain vulnerable during its lengthier manoeuvring process.

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