In terms of military technology, the United States stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world in a number of categories, and stealth aircraft is certainly one of them. America’s stealth-expertise dates back decades, when classified programs that produced radar-defeating bombers like the F-117 Nighthawk and the B-2 Spirit were still in their infancy. Today, America’s two premiere fighters, the F-22 Raptor and newer F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, were both built with stealth in mind, making them arguably the least-detectable combat aircraft anywhere on the globe, but that’s not to say there isn’t competition.

China’s J-20 and forthcoming J-31, both based on stolen specs for the F-22 and F-35 respectively, are expected to prove capable, though likely not quite as stealthy as their American predecessors. There’s also Russia’s ill-fated foray into fifth-generation fighters, the Su-57. Once touted as the “most advanced fighter” on the planet, Russia’s struggling fighter failed to sustain the effort, prompting the Kremlin to announce that it would end its order of these new fighters with just 12 operational aircraft.

Russia touts new stealth coating on its all-but-failed 5th generation fighter
(WikiMedia Commons)

Even America’s curtailed F-22 program was cut short after producing more than 180 air frames. Fielding just 12 Su-57s all but guarantees that the few pilots tasked with operating these aircraft will have limited training time and likely won’t ever see combat. Aircraft, like any other machine, require continuous maintenance and the occasional replaced part. With so few Su-57s in existence, replacement parts alone will likely prove too costly to maintain a stock, leading to what we can expect will be long-duration waits anytime one of these rare fighters needs a bit of work done.

According to Russia, its tiny fleet of fifth-gen fighters keeps improving every day, most recently thanks to the addition of a “new composite material with enhanced radar wave-absorbing properties” Russian engineers added to the cockpit canopy of the aircraft.