On Saturday, Russia announced their intentions to formally enter the world of fifth generation fighters with the first official order of their advanced Sukhoi Su-57, a platform intended to serve as a challenge for America’s fleets of fifth generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and F-22 Raptors.
“The first contract for 12 aircraft has been agreed on, and the deliveries under this contract will begin shortly,” Deputy Defense Minister Alexey Krivoruchko told reporters.
According to the brief statement released by the Russian Ministry of Defense through the state-owned media outlet RT, the Russian military will receive their first dozen operational Su-57s within a year, making the anticipated timeline as optimistic (and to be honest… fishy) as the Kremlin’s claims about the aircraft’s performance. The Su-57 program, which began under the moniker T-50, dates back to the late 1990s, with Sukhoi securing the contract for construction officially in 2002. In the intervening years, only ten Su-57s have been built, with fewer than that considered “operational.”
Back in February, the Russian military deployed a bevy of Su-57s to Syria — where Russia continues to provide direct military support to Syrian President Bashar al Assad throughout multiple conflicts within Syria’s borders. Russia has a history of deploying immature weapons technologies to this theater for the sake of marketing, at it would appear that the debut of their fifth generation fighters was more of the same. The aircraft were spotted in Syria for a few days with no reports of any combat action (not dissimilar from their approach to the Uran-9 combat drone) only to return to Russia quietly soon thereafter. After losing financial backing from Russia’s partner in the Su-57 venture (India), it seems likely that the Russian government was simply getting their aircraft into the spotlight again as a bid for new customers. America will be exporting F-35s to a number of allied nations, and at the moment, the Su-57 is the only aircraft on the open market that claims to be its match (for those who find themselves outside of America’s good graces).