Russia's Su-57 Felon Stealth Fighter Looks Like a Giant Mistake

May 10, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaUkraineWar In UkraineSu-57Su-57 FelonMilitaryDefense

Russia's Su-57 Felon Stealth Fighter Looks Like a Giant Mistake

Russia has deployed its most advanced fighter jet, the Su-57, to target the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih, marking a rare appearance in the ongoing conflict. Despite being touted as a cutting-edge fifth-generation fighter with stealth capabilities, skepticism remains about the Su-57's effectiveness.

 

Summary: Russia has deployed its most advanced fighter jet, the Su-57, to target the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih, marking a rare appearance in the ongoing conflict. Despite being touted as a cutting-edge fifth-generation fighter with stealth capabilities, skepticism remains about the Su-57's effectiveness.

Su-57

 

-Known as the "Felon" by NATO, this aircraft emerged from Russia's earlier I-90 program, intended to replace aging Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters. Although faster than its American counterparts like the F-35, the Felon is not as stealthy, having a larger radar cross-section.

-Developmental challenges and economic constraints have limited Russia's ability to produce more than a handful of these fighters, which are used sparingly to avoid potential losses and protect sensitive technology.

Russia's Su-57 Felon Fighter Might Be Fighting 

Russia’s limited fleet of Su-57 fighters reportedly joined the country’s war effort in Ukraine last month. According to Ukraine’s air force, Moscow’s most advanced fighter platform was deployed to target the central city of Kryvyi Rih. 

The Su-57 has largely been absent from Russia’s invasion. While the Kremlin often touts it as a lethal fifth-generation aircraft, other nations are not confident in the Su-57’s true capabilities. In any case, Russia likely has no more than 20 operational Su-57s at the moment, due to developmental and budgetary challenges.

Introducing the “Felon”

Designated by NATO as the Felon, Russia’s Su-57 fighter is the first Russian military aircraft designed with stealth technology. The former Soviet Union first outlined its need for such a platform and established the I-90 program to meet the requirement.

Soviet officials wanted to prioritize ground attack capabilities and speed, and ultimately to replace the nation’s aging Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters. 

Once the USSR dissolved, the program collapsed, and only in the late 1990s was the drive to create a next-generation fighter revived. The PAK FA competition ended when the Ministry of Defense chose Sukhoi to construct the new platform.

Su-57 Felon

Although the Felon is an improvement over its predecessors, it is not as solid a fighter as the Kremlin claims. 

The first Su-57 finally entered service with the Russian Aerospace Forces in 2020 after a series of mishaps during the prototype phase. The first Su-57s introduced were equipped with a pair of Saturn/Rybinsk AL-31F1 afterburning turbofan engines for power. The Izdeliye 30 later replaced this engine, providing more thrust. Perhaps the Su-57’s most significant attribute is its speed. Able to reach Mach 2.0, the Felon is faster than the American-made F-35 Lightning II fighter. The Russian jet is not as stealthy as its American fifth-generation counterparts. Since the Felon is designed with a larger radar cross section than the F-22 and F-35, the aircraft is easier for enemy systems to detect.

Where Are the Felons?

Due to ongoing developmental issues, plus economic limitations caused by the war in Ukraine, Russia has only finished a handful of operational Felons, and it uses them sparingly. The Kremlin has claimed to deploy its Su-57s in strategic strike missions, but there is very little evidence that these jets have operated in contested airspace.

Earlier this year, the UK Ministry of Defense said that, “Russia is highly likely prioritizing avoiding the reputational damage, reduced export prospects, and the compromise of sensitive technology which would come from any loss of FELON over Ukraine. This is symptomatic of Russia’s continued risk-averse approach to employing its air force in the war.”

About the Author: Maya Carlin 

 Maya Carlin, National Security Writer with The National Interest, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin