Russia's Su-57 Felon Stealth Fighter: Now Going to War in Ukraine?

Su-57 Felon from Russia
February 28, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaUkraineWar In UkraineSu-57Su-57 FelonMilitary

Russia's Su-57 Felon Stealth Fighter: Now Going to War in Ukraine?

On the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, questions arose about the deployment of advanced military assets, particularly the Su-57 Felon stealth fighter.

Summary: On the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, questions arose about the deployment of advanced military assets, particularly the Su-57 stealth fighter. Despite its touted capabilities, the Su-57 has seen limited action, mainly launching missiles from Russian airspace. A report suggested a Su-57, escorted by Su-35s, entered Ukrainian airspace to launch a missile, marking a rare combat involvement. However, the mission reportedly failed due to an ordnance malfunction. The UK Ministry of Defence highlighted Russia's cautious use of the Su-57, aiming to avoid potential reputational damage or loss of sensitive technology by keeping the aircraft primarily within Russian territory.

Su-57 in Ukraine: Russia's Stealth Fighter Steps into the Spotlight

Last Saturday marked the second anniversary since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and yet many of the Kremlin's most highly-touted advanced military platforms have largely been absent from the fighting. That has included the T-14 Armata main battle tank (MBT) and the Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation stealth fighter.

There has been speculation that Russia lacks the confidence to send such expensive and much-hyped hardware to the front due to concerns of "underperformance." The T-14 has only been briefly deployed in a secondary support role, and the Su-57 has only operated from the relative safety of Russian airspace.

However, perhaps due to the loss of multiple aircraft, the Kremlin has seen the need to risk sending the Su-57 closer to Ukrainian airspace.

Dylan Malyasov of the Defence-Blog reported on Wednesday that a Su-57, escorted by a pair of Su-35 fighters, launched a missile strike on Ukrainian targets. He cited sources that claimed an advanced Kh-69 cruise missile was among the ordnance employed in the February 18 sortie, during which time the Su-57 even entered Ukrainian airspace to launch the missile.

However, the ordnance suffered a malfunction and missed its target. Though this deployment of the Su-57 hasn't been confirmed, it would be the first time in months that the Su-57 has been employed in combat. Perhaps the Russian Aerospace Forces were testing the capabilities of Ukraine's air defenses, or the Kremlin had determined it needed to deploy the Su-57 before any F-16 Fighting Falcons entered service with Kyiv's forces.

The Su-57 Felon Won't Fight

For years, Moscow has touted the capabilities of its Sukhoi Su-57 (NATO reporting name "Felon"), yet, there have only been a few reports of the fifth-generation "stealth fighter" taking part in any sorties. The aircraft have been employed to launch long-range missiles towards Ukrainian targets, yet, the fighters have been absent over the actual skies of Ukraine, and it isn't because of the stealth capabilities.

Rather, Russia's air chiefs largely remain "risk averse" to employing the Su-57 in combat, The Evening Standard reported last year, citing an intelligence briefing from the UK Ministry of Defence, which noted on social media, "Since at least June 2022, Russian Aerospace Forces have almost certainly used Su-57 FELON to conduct missions against Ukraine. FELON is Russia's most advanced fifth-generation supersonic combat jet, employing stealth technologies and highly advanced avionics."

The MoD added, "These missions have likely been limited to flying over Russian territory, launching long range air-to-surface or air-to-air missiles into Ukraine," while recent commercially available imagery showed five Su-57s "parked" at Akhtubinsk Air Base, which hosts the 929th Flight Test Center.

"As this is the only known FELON base, these aircraft have likely been involved in operations against Ukraine," the MoD suggested. "Russia is highly likely prioritising avoiding the reputational damage, reduced export prospects, and the compromise of sensitive technology which would come from any loss of FELON over Ukraine," and "This is symptomatic of Russia's continued risk-averse approach to employing its air force in the war."

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author: [email protected].

Main image by Dmitry Terekhov.