Is Russia's New Su-57 Stealth Fighter and S-500 Air Defense System Doomed?
The Kremlin’s new state armament plan, which will run from 2018-2027, will continue modernization of the Russian Aerospace Forces. However, while Russia will continue to buy modern combat aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-35S Flanker-E air superiority fighter and the Su-34 Fullback bomber, Moscow is not likely to make large purchases of the fifth-generation Su-57 PAK-FA stealth fighter until after 2027.
“The Su-57 is not expected to enter into serial production until upgraded engines are ready, which is unlikely to happen until 2027,” Center for Naval Analyses senior research scientist Dmitry Gorenburg wrote in a new PONARS Policy Memo. “Over the next eight years, Russia will continue to purchase small numbers of these planes for testing.”
Production of other combat aircraft including the Su-35S, Su-30SM Flanker-H multi-role fighter and the Su-34 Fullback will continue. Additionally, small numbers of the new Mikoyan MiG-35 Fulcrums are also likely to enter service with the Russian Air Force.
“It will also continue to purchase Su-35S fighter jets, with a new contract for 50 additional aircraft signed in late 2016. Purchases of Su-30SM fighter jets and Su-34 strike aircraft will also continue, most likely at rates of 12-18 aircraft per year of each type,” Gorenburg wrote.
“Mikoyan MiG-35 fighter aircraft may also be procured, but probably not in large numbers.”
However, while fighter production will continue, the Russian Air Force will likely deemphasize combat aircraft procurement to focus on other more pressing priorities.
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“Overall, with many modern fighter aircraft now in place, rates of procurement will slow in order to allow for the purchase of other types of aircraft,” Gorenburg wrote.
“The same goes for military helicopters, since the Russian military has received what it needs in new helicopters during the last seven years. Development of a new high-speed helicopter will not start until after 2027.”
During the coming years, the Russian Air Force is likely to focus on addressing support aircraft such strategic airlifters and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance planes. Moreover, the Russians will also have to address persistent problem with their aerial refueling capabilities.
“Transport and refueling aircraft, long an area of weakness for the Russian Air Force, will be one area of focus,” Gorenburg wrote. “Serial production of the long-troubled Ilyushin Il-76-MD90A is expected to start in 2019, and the Russian military is expecting to receive 10-12 such aircraft per year thereafter. A light transport aircraft is under development, with prototypes expected to be completed in 2024.”
One of the priorities in the new state armament plan is airborne command and control.
“The A-100 airborne warning system (AWACS) aircraft, based on the Il-76MD90A, was expected to be delivered starting in 2016 but has been repeatedly delayed. Nevertheless, procurement of this aircraft will be included in SAP-2027,” Gorenburg wrote.
Gorenburg also notes—as fellow CNA researcher Samuel Bendett often points out—that Russia has embarked on a robotic renaissance of sorts.
“Russia is experiencing a boom in domestic production of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs),” Gorenburg wrote. “By 2020, it will have a strike UAV in production, as well as a new generation of reconnaissance UAVs.”
As for Russian air defenses, the new state armament plan continues production of existing systems, however the new S-500 Prometheus seems to have been delayed.
“Russia will continue to deploy S-400 long-range missiles and Pantsir-S short-range missiles,” Gorenburg wrote. “However, it seems increasingly unlikely that the next generation S-500 air defense system will be ready for serial production any time soon, though official plans still indicate that a prototype will be built by 2020. Original plans called for serial production of the S-500 to start in 2015. The new standard short-range air defense system has just started development and is not expected to be ready for production until 2030.”
Overall, there are no surprises in the Kremlin’s new state armament plan as far as the Russian Air Force is concerned.