Over two decades since the inception of Russia’s hotly-anticipated fifth-generation fighter, the first serial Su-57 model has entered service.
Russia’s United Air Corporation has released video footage of the first Su-57 (North Atlantic Treaty Organization reporting name “Felon”) being built and, literally, rolled out of the factory prior to being transferred to Russia’s Air Force. UAC’s slick production reel reveals little that we didn’t already know about the Su-57’s outward design, but it does provide plenty of attractive high-resolution closeups.
Serial Su-57 units are being produced at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Plant in far-eastern Russia. This is the first unit of a government contract for seventy-six fighters, to be procured as part of Russia’s 2028 armament program. The Su-57 is among the Russian defense sector’s top production priorities in 2021: “This year, it is important to build up the production of advanced types of armament: Su-57 fifth-generation multirole fighters and new Il-76MD-90A heavy military transport planes,” said Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in a conference call. Since the Su-57’s bespoke Izdeliye 30 engine is reportedly still not in a mass-producible state, the first serial Su-57 models are expected to use the older Saturn AL-41F-1 engine as a stopgap measure.
The Su-57 has had a long and winding research, development, and procurement road. A breakthrough of sorts came in the summer of 2019, when Russia’s Defense Ministry apparently succeeded in driving down the fighter’s price by as much as 20%. The Su-57’s cost remains a topic of debate, with optimistic estimates suggesting a price tag of around $40 million per unit.
The Su-57 is Russia’s fifth-generation stealth air-superiority fighter. Designed with a focus on class-leading aerodynamic performance, it boasts speeds of up to 2 Mach without the use of afterburners and subsonic range of up to 3,500 km, as well as 3D thrust vectoring for supermaneuverability. The Su-57 is compatible with a diverse suite of Russia’s latest air-to-air missiles, reportedly including the new R-37M hypersonic long range air-to-air missile. The Su-57 is likewise compatible with a slew of precision-guided bombs from the KAB family for ground attack missions. There are unconfirmed reports that the Su-57 may also carry either the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missile, or a smaller “Kinzhal-like” derivative with similar performance characteristics. There is ongoing speculation, fueled by a 2019 Russian Defense Ministry video that showed the two flying side by side, that the Su-57 will receive reconnaissance and combat support from Russia’s upcoming Okhotnik-B drone.
As the Su-57 moves farther along in serial production, Moscow is reviving export talks on all fronts. A full-size model of the Su-57E, the export version of the Su-57, will be exhibited at the Aero India 2021 aerospace show in the Indian city of Bangalore later this week. “If we speak about the Su-57E, this aircraft evokes high interest in many countries because it features unique combat properties and flight characteristics. We see that there is the need for next-generation aircraft and there are both a market niche and pre-requisites for the delivery of this plane,” said Rostec executive Viktor Kladov.
Mark Episkopos is the new national security reporter for the National Interest.