The Buzz

Why Russia's New Su-57 Stealth Fighter Might Be a Giant Waste of Time

Russia’s Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA fifth-generation stealth fighter has been given the designation Su-57 as it nears production.

Initially, Moscow will only buy 12 Su-57 aircraft, which are expected to be delivered in 2019. Indeed, the Russian air force is not likely to buy more than 60 of the initial version of the Su-57 in total.

“In 2019, we should begin the delivery of a pre-production batch of [T-50] planes,” United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) chief Yuri Slyusar told the TASS news agency.

One of the reasons the Russians are less than enthused at buying the initial version of the Su-57 is because the stealth fighter is currently powered by interim Saturn AL-41F1 afterburning turbofans producing 32,500lbs thrust each. That is the same engine as the existing Su-35S Flanker-E, which uses many of the same systems that the Su-57 will.

Indeed, with exception of stealth, the new Flanker offers much of the same capabilities as the new fifth-generation fighter. Thus, the Russians are unwilling to spend money on a system that offers only a marginal increase in performance in their view.

“Su-35 fighters of the 4+ generation, according to military pilots, demonstrated very good characteristics,” Russian deputy defense minister Yuri Borisov said according to the Russian media.

The Russians intend to buy more of the second, improved version of the Su-57, which will feature a new engine and other enhancements. The Russians are continuing to develop the next-generation Saturn izdeliye 30 engines for the T-50. There are few details available about the izdeliye 30 engines, but the new powerplant is expected to deliver 24,054lbs dry thrust and 39,566lbs of afterburning thrust.

The new engine is expected to make its first flight installed onboard the PAK-FA in the fourth quarter of 2017 and should be ready for use in 2025. The Russian air force could buy as many as 160 of the next iteration of Su-57.

Meanwhile, the Russians are looking at developing a new light fifth-generation fighter that would be developed for the 2025 state armament plan. The RSK-MiG is apparently working on a design for that program, but as with all such developments, the news should be taken with a grain of salt. The Russian defense and aerospace industry—like its American counterpart—like to promote new concepts in the hopes the government will buy the product. The new light fighter could simply be part of such as effort.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Creative Commons.