The Russian Ministry of Defense has released new footage of their advanced (and rare) Su-57 operating in Syria earlier this year. The footage, posted on Twitter by the Ministry’s official account, shows these allegedly 5th generation fighters doing just about everything they did while in Syria this past February: land, takeoff, fly around a bit for publicity’s sake, and depart once again for the safety of mother Russia.
#Exclusive #footage of the Su-57 5th generation perspective aviation complexes’ usage during the combat operation in Syrian Arab Republic https://t.co/JKoNkKBm32 #RusMoD #Syria #Su57 #AerospaceForces #RearmamentProgram pic.twitter.com/6CSFNTQlNV
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) November 19, 2018
It seems unlikely that the Su-57 was deployed to Syria to meet a legitimate operational need. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced total victory over the Islamic State in December, when he also announced a planned withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria. However, in the time since, tensions have continued to escalate between the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces and Bashar Al Assad’s sitting Syrian regime, which has received direct military support from the Kremlin.
The Su-57, also known as the PAK FA and T-50, is Russia’s most advanced fighter platform, widely believed to be a 5th generation competitor for the likes of America’s F-22, and China’s J-20. However, unlike the F-22, which entered service more than a decade ago, and the J-20, which reportedly became combat operational this year, the Su-57 remains years away from mass production and legitimate combat operations. To date, the Russian military has taken delivery of fewer than 12 of the prototype aircraft, which have already suffered repeated setbacks due to hardware issues and budget limitations.
In fact, the Russian government doesn’t anticipate taking delivery of any more Su-57s ever, making Russia’s small fleet of stealth fighters little more than a token presence meant to help Russian officials keep their seat at the table when posturing against the likes of the United States and its F-35 purchasing allies. It seems likely, however, that if Russia can secure a new foreign investor for the Su-57 platform, they would be happy to move the aircraft into production and use the proceeds to field a few more fighters themselves. Ever since India backed out of the Su-57 program, Russia’s sanction-ridden economy has forced the Kremlin to ease back on high dollar projects like the Su-57 or Russia’s often touted T-14 Armata battle tank.
However, even if Russia ever found the funding to put the Su-57 into full-scale production, it still suffers limitations that place its status as a 5th generation fighter in question. It’s stealth capabilities have yet to be put to the test, but some experts question just how effective Russian stealth technology may be after decades of trailing behind the U.S. More troubling for the program, however, are the limits created by their engine design. According to multiple reports, the Su-57, like China’s J-20, still lacks the ability to “supercruise,” or maintain supersonic speed without engaging its afterburners.
Super-cruising is vital for a 5th generation fighter because it allows for a large operational area with comparatively low fuel consumption. Russia’s Su-57 and China’s J-20, both currently lacking super-cruise capabilities, would have to decide between getting to their destination quickly or having enough fuel to loiter once they arrive — issues America’s F-22s and F-35s have mitigated to a large extent through superior fuel economy.
You can watch more footage of the Su-57 operating in Syria, taken back in February, below:
— Joseph Dempsey (@JosephHDempsey) February 21, 2018
Feature image courtesy of Twitter