Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation plans to build as many as seventy-six Su-57 fifth-generation stealth fighters while simultaneously pursuing upgrades to the platform as it evolves over time.
The company’s CEO, Yuri Slyusar, is quoted in Russian newspaper TASS as saying there is fast-growing international demand for the jet and that orders will likely run into the hundreds.
“We hope that this aircraft will be chosen as the platform and the basic plane for coping with a broad range of tasks, and orders for these fighters will run into the hundreds,” Slyusar said, according to TASS.
Very little is known about many of the technical specifics of the Su-57 jet, yet the TASS report says its stealth configuration consists of composite materials, advanced on-board electronics, an onboard computer referred to as the “electronic second pilot,” radar technology and an internal weapons bay.
Apart from the relative superiority or technological maturity of advanced systems on board the jet, the Russian military simply will not operate enough of them to present any kind of credible threat to U.S. and NATO airpower—unless production is massively ramped up. The United States plans to acquire at least 1763 F-35 jets, a number much greater than the seventy-six planned for Russia. Even if Russian Su-57 jet production hits high new levels, bringing the fleet up to several hundred of the aircraft, it would still be a mere fraction of the size of the U.S. fifth-generation stealth force.
In the event of any kind of engagement, a massive force of F-35 jets could simply blanket an area with surveillance and long-range fires, detecting and potentially destroying enemy fighters before they are themselves seen. Even if the Su-57 jets were superior in performance to the F-35 jets, a possibility that has not been determined, a massively smaller force of Russian Su-57 jets would not be able to overcome a dispersed, networked and heavily armed force of NATO and U.S. F-35 jets and U.S. F-22 jets.
This is a significant point because, despite the fact that standoff-range, network connectivity, and high-fidelity sensors may enable a single aircraft to destroy many adversaries, the ability to “mass” force is still considered extremely significant in terms of sheer firepower and area of operations. A single superior aircraft might hold off a small group of attackers, yet multiple groups of attackers spread across and dispersed throughout massive areas of operation would ultimately overwhelm a smaller number of aircraft or simply stretch defenses too thin. Nevertheless, the margin of difference between the F-35 jet and Su-57 jet most likely resides in the range, sensitivity, and fidelity of their respective sensing and high-speed computing capabilities.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.