When Russia first set to work on what would become the Sukhoi Su-57 (internally the T-50 at the time), it had a singular aim: utilizing 21st century stealth characteristics to produce a fighter capable of standing toe to toe with the best the United States had to offer, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-22 Raptor. On paper, even with Russia’s struggling economy, the endeavor prompted some concern due in large part to Russia’s history of fielding extremely maneuverable fighter platforms and an injection of funding sourced through a partnership with India.

Pair of Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA 052 (Su-57) BLUE and 051 BLUE modern Russian jet fighters performing demonstration flights in Zhukovsky during MAKS-2013 airshow. (Getty Images)

Just how “stealth” is Russian stealth?

At the beginning of 2018, India pulled out of their development agreement with Russia. According to unconfirmed reports out of India, the decision was largely influenced by the new fighter failing to meet discussed standards regarding its stealth capabilities and avionics. Images of Russia’s few existing Su-57s show contour gaps in the body components that a number of experts contend compromise the aircraft’s stealth profile right from the start. It’s believed that Russia simply lacks the production capability to build these aircraft with tight enough tolerances to achieve F-35 or comparable levels of stealth.

There is also little evidence to suggest that Russia’s radar-absorbant coatings are as functional as the coating applied to American stealth aircraft. America has a decades-long head start in research and development on this front, offering what may be a significant difference in both performance and durability—though to be perfectly clear, any conclusions drawn in this regard are conjecture at best.