Why Russia’s Su-57 Fighter Jet Is Ranked Last for Stealth

June 6, 2021 Topic: Su-57 Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: Su-57RussiaStealth FightersStealthAir Force

Why Russia’s Su-57 Fighter Jet Is Ranked Last for Stealth

Russia’s Su-57 is widely seen as the least stealthy of the 5th generation entrants, but there’s more to a fighter jet than radar cross-sections.

As aviation expert and Defense Editor for Aviation Week Steve Trimble once explained to me, the Russian affinity for stealth isn’t as powerful as America’s, and as such, they aren’t looking to win the stealth competition. Instead, they’re just trying to make the Su-57 a sneaky and capable fighter with bombing capabilities… and in that regard, they seem to be succeeding.

Its avionics are headed in the right direction



It remains unclear just how far along the Su-57’s avionics suite truly is, but Russian officials have repeatedly drawn parallels between its ability to fuse data from a variety of sensors and the F-35’s game-changing degree of situational awareness. While the full sensor suite does not appear to be operational yet, industry publications have pointed to the Russian use of open system architecture and dispersed computing within the aircraft as strong indicators that the systems aboard the Su-57 are not only advanced, they’re upgradeable.

The Su-57’s cheek-mounted radars, nose-mounted X-Band N036 Byelka (Squirrel) AESA radar system, and 101KS ‘Atoll’ infrared search and track sensor give the fighter a great field of view and everything it might need to identify even stealthy opponents on the horizon.

It’s got speed and acrobatics


The Su-57 may not be the stealthiest or most technologically advanced 5th generation fighter on the market, but it’s still a product of Russia’s long and storied history of developing highly capable combat airframes. The same firm responsible for the Su-57 also produces incredibly capable 4th generation fighters like the Su-35, so it comes as little surprise that Russia’s first stealth fighter is no slouch in acrobatic performance.

The Su-57’s 3D thrust vectoring gives the fighter a huge degree of maneuverability and is far superior at executing acrobatic movements at lower speeds than its non-thrust vectoring competition in the F-35 and J-20A (the J-20B is expected to add thrust vectoring capabilities). Thrust vector control allows the pilot to orient the engines of the fighter independently from the fuselage, making extremely sharp turns possible, or even flying forward while pointing the nose, and weapon systems, down at an opposing aircraft.

Even the F-22 Raptor, widely seen as the most capable air-to-air fighter on the planet, is limited in its thrust vectoring capabilities in comparison. It’s worth noting, however, that the sort of acrobatics thrust vectoring allows for scrub a great deal of the fighter’s speed, making it an approach to air combat that isn’t prized by all air forces.

The Su-57 also boasts the second-highest top speed of the class, topping out at Mach 2, just a few hundred miles per hour slower than the F-22.

Conclusion: The Su-57 may be the “worst” 5th generation fighter, but it’s still a highly capable machine


All told, the Su-57 isn’t quite as advanced, quite as capable, or quite as stealthy as the other three fighters of its generation, but that isn’t to say that it doesn’t represent an important leap in capability for the Russian military. Like the F-117 Nighthawk, America’s first foray into stealth technology, game changing advancements have to start somewhere, and as far as starts go, the Su-57 is a pretty good one.

Rather than relying on stealth, a field of technology in which the Russians may be lagging behind, Sukhoi has incorporated stealth into the design of an otherwise capable platform, producing a fighter that may not be sneakier than an F-35, but remains sneaky enough to cause some real problems for opponents, even if only on the drawing board.

To date, there are so few Su-57s in existence that any capability they offer the Russian military is superficial at best, but as production continues to spin up and the design continues to mature, Russia may yet field a positively fearsome stealth fighter. And with the U.S. leaning further into updated 4th generation (non-stealth) jets like the F-15EX, being the least stealthy 5th generation fighter is still a pretty good standing compared to the 4th-gen fighters that will remain in service for decades to come.

The Su-57 may not lead the pack in the realm of stealth fighters, but it doesn’t need to in order to pose a threat.

This article first appeared at Sandboxx.

Image: Wikipedia.