Stealth War: Russia's New Su-57 vs. America's F-22 Raptor
Russia’s official designation of the PAK-FA/T-50 jet as the Sukhoi Su-57 is just another reminder that the field of fifth generation fighters is about to get more crowded. The United States, China, Russia, Japan and Korea are all working on their own fifth generation designs, but so far only three planes, the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Chinese J-20 are operational. Increased tensions between the United States and NATO on one side and Russia on the other have people wondering: once the Su-57 does become operational, how will it stack up against the F-22 Raptor?
The F-22 Raptor started life as a dedicated air superiority fighter in the same vein as the F-15C Eagle, the aircraft it was originally slated to replace. The aircraft was designed and built by Lockheed Martin, which had early experience building the first operational stealth warplane, the F-117A Nighthawk stealth “fighter”. In 1990, the prototype YF-22 fighter engaged in a flyoff with the Northrop YF-23 Black Widow II and won the competition, in large extent due to its emphasis on stealth and maneuverability.
Stealth was a foundational feature of the F-22, and the plane’s stealthy profile was in part dictated by simulations done on the Cray supercomputer, an early supercomputer. The F-22 design maximized sensor evasion, with diamond-shaped wings and sharp, faceted surfaces. The speed brake, weapon bay doors and engine exhausts are serrated to minimize the aircraft’s radar signature while the large, vertical, canted tails reduce the fighter’s infrared signature from certain angles. The aircraft’s metallic surfaces are also coated with radar-absorbent materials and paint.
The use of the Cray supercomputer helped make the F-22 highly maneuverable, especially at high angles of attack. A key F-22 feature is the use of thrust vectoring in the pitch axis, allowing the aircraft to combine engine power with maneuver at high angles of attack to gain an advantage in dogfights. The large bubble canopy was the largest single of piece of polycarbonate made while the F-22 was in production, and gave the pilot excellent visibility. The combination of maneuverability and visibility mean a pilot can detect and react to visual range threats quickly and decisively.
The F-22 is powered by a pair of F119 afterburning turbofan engines that produces a total 70,000 pounds of thrust, forty percent more than the F-15 Eagle. The engines allow the Raptor to supercruise at Mach 1.4 without afterburners, enhancing the aircraft’s range—an important consideration for a plane that can’t carry external fuel tanks into battle. The aircraft’s primary sensor, the AN/APG-77 radar, is designed to out-range enemy threats, detecting and classifying them before they detect the Raptor, allowing the American jet to not only see first, but shoot first.
The Raptor has three weapons bays, two of which can accommodate one AIM-9M/X Sidewinder infrared guided missile and a second belly bay that can accommodate six AIM-120 AMRAAM (“Slammer”) radar-guided missiles with a range of up to sixty-five miles. The center bay can also carry JDAM satellite-guided munitions or up to four 600 gallon fuel tanks. The F-22 has a M61A2 six-barreled, twenty-millimeter Gatling gun buried in the right wing root with enough ammunition for just under five seconds of sustained fire.
Much less is known about the Sukhoi Su-57. Despite seven years of test flights, many details about the aircraft remain unknown. What is known is that Sukhoi has struggled to develop the aircraft, particularly key components such as the engine. The first operational aircraft are slated to join the Russian Aerospace Forces in 2019.
Although both are fifth generation fighters, the Su-57 significantly differs in design philosophy from the F-22 Raptor. In the key areas of speed, maneuverability and stealth, the Raptor emphasized maneuverability and stealth. The Su-57, on the other hand, places an emphasis on maneuverability and speed, arguably making it similar to the YF-23 Black Widow II.