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Yury Laskin/Jack Richardson

Nicknamed “FELON” by NATO and developed by the Sukhoi design bureau, the Su-57 is a promising fifth-generation, multi-role, fighter which is designed to destroy all types of air, ground and surface targets. However, it is now apparent that the Su-57 will not, at least in the immediate future, replace the Su-27/35 “FLANKER” family in the numbers originally envisaged.

Created under the Future Combat Aircraft (PAK FA) programme, the Su-57 is being considered for two operational scenarios. Under the first, it will replace the Su-35S when needed as the existing FLANKERS currently suit the Russian Aerospace Forces because, unless there is a change in circumstances, dogfights between the Su-57s and western fifth-generation fighters such as the F22 RAPTOR and F35 LIGHTNING II are not expected in the near future. Under the second scenario, the Su-57 could be purchased in small quantities to operate at high speeds and altitudes, destroying enemy radars and protecting friendly aircraft with long-range missiles.

High performance and modern armament

With two AL-41F turbojet engines it has a top speed of about 2,600 kph and a range of 1,750 km in addition to the ability to climb 21,000 metres per minute. Unlike the MiG-31BM interceptor, which is very fast but not very manoeuvrable, the Su-57 is capable in both respects. The aircraft’s weaponry is located inside the inner fuselage compartments but if necessary, weapons can be carried externally. These include the X-58 anti-radar missile and the new long-range RVV-BD, which can prosecute targets at 600km. While their American counterparts – the upgraded AGM-88 and AIM-120 missiles – are perhaps more advanced in terms of guidance, they cannot cover such distances. The reported targets of the Su-57 in this role would include reconnaissance aircraft, heavy drones, AWACS aircraft and air-to-air refuelling tankers while for the Su-57 to engage important ground targets, a small hypersonic missile, to be placed inside the fuselage, has already been developed in prototype form.

Exactly how the Su-57 will be used remains unclear, but it has already been tested in missions over Syria, after which, their purpose will be determined according to cost and combat-efficiency. It may also be of interest to Russia’s traditional, and potentially new, partners abroad, as India could decide to purchase an initial batch of “off-the-shelf” Su-57s to evaluate their capabilities with the possibility of entering into a joint production contract (this would be a similar approach to that adopted with the Su-30).

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