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Sukhoi Su-57, the Russian most advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft

Sukhoi Su-57

The Sukhoi Su-57 is a Russian single-seat, twin-engine, multi-role, stealth, fifth-generation fighter jet. The NATO reporting name of Sukhoi Su-57 is ‘Felon’. The aircraft is designed for air superiority and deep attack missions. 

The Su-57 is developed under the PAK FA (Prospective Aeronautical Complex of Front-Line Air Forces) 5th-generation fighter jet program. It is the first aircraft in the Russian Air Force currently in service that uses stealth technology. 

PAK FA program:

The Soviet Union in 1979, started the next-generation aircraft program. The fighter jet was intended to enter service under the next-generation program in 1990. The new fighter aircraft was designated as MFI (Multifunctional Front-Line Fighter). But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the next-generation fighter jet program was delayed and eventually canceled in 2000.

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After the cancellation of the Soviet Era next-generation fighter jet program, the new initiative was taken to develop the aircraft. The program was called ‘PAK FA’. The aim of the PAK FA program was to develop the fighter jet that will compete with the Western Eurofighter Typhoons and the American most advanced F-22 Raptor. The Sukhoi company was selected for the designing and manufacturing of the new 5th-generation fighter jet. 

Russia is also developing the next-generation S-70 Okhotnik (Hunter) strike drone. These heavy drones will be integrated with the 5th-generation Su-57 fighter jets in mixed air regiments. It will radically enhance the Air Force capabilities and will help to close the space of hundreds and even thousands of kilometers with an impenetrable air shield. 

Sukhoi Su-57 development:

The internal name of the Sukhoi Su-57 aircraft in the Sukhoi company is ‘T-50’. The next-generation fighter aircraft has been under development since 2002 in the PAK FA program. 

The conceptual design of the Su-57 stealth fighter was completed in 2004. The PAK FA program development stage was completed in 2007, as quoted by the Russian Air Force Chief Alexander Zelin by then. A total of three prototypes were decided to be built until 2009. From the three prototypes, the one fighter jet design was selected for production as Russia’s 5th-generation stealth capable aircraft. 

India and Russia in 2007 signed an agreement to develop the FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Jet Program) jointly. The development of the next-generation aircraft was expected to take about 8 to 10 years. But in 2018 India canceled the agreement by stating that the next-generation aircraft development FGFA program did not meet its requirements for advanced radar, stealth capabilities, avionics, and sensor suite. 

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The Su-57 took its first flight in 2010. The first Su-57 stealth fighter entered service in the Russian Air Force in 2020. The serial production of the jet was started in 2019 by Sukhoi. The aircraft has an expected service life of about 35 years. The Air Force planned to buy a total of 150 jets. The order of 12 fighters was agreed with the delivery starting from 2019. The Air Force is expected to procure 76 jets until 2028.

The one cause of the slow production of the 5th-generation fighter aircraft is also described by Yury Borisov, a former Deputy Minister of Defense. He stated that they already have the Su-35 as one of the world’s best fighters in the Air Force. So they don’t have to speed up the production of next-generation fighter aircraft the Su-57. 

Cost of Su-57:

The expected per unit cost of the Su-57 ranging from US$35 million to over US$54 million. According to Foreign Policy Research Institute. But the total program cost and the exact per-unit price of the Su-57 are still not confirmed by the official sources. 

Sukhoi Su-57 Specifications:

The Su-57 fighter jet has a maximum payload carrying capacity of 35,000 kg. The aircraft has a combat range of 3500 km without using supercruise speed. While at the supersonic speed it has a range of 1500 km, two times the range of Su-27 fighter aircraft. 

The aircraft has a wingspan of 14.1 meters. It has a service ceiling of 66,000 feet (20,000 meters). The aircraft has a g limit of +9.0. The maximum climb rate is 361m/s.

Speed of the Su-57 stealth fighter:

The Su-57 can move with the maximum speed of Mach 2. The aircraft can maintain supersonic flight (up to Mach 1.6) without using afterburners. 

Su-57 Engine:

The Su-57 stealth aircraft uses the pair of a thrust vectoring Saturn Izdeliye 117 or AL-41F1 augmented turbofan engines. The current engine used in the initial batch of Su-57 is first-generation and is the improved version of AL-31 that was used in the Su-27 jets. The engine produces a power of 93.1 KN. 

The AL-41F1 is a FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control). The engine is integrated into the flight control system for maneuverability and smooth handling. The FADEC uses the EEC (Electronic Engine Control) digital computer that handles the performance of the jet engine. The engine uses the Thrust Vectoring nozzle (TVC) that allows the fighter jet to produce thrust vectoring moments. It has also increased the efficiency of the engine during sustained supersonic flights. 

The latest batch of Su-57s will be equipped with the new Izdeliye-30 engine. The Izdeliye-30 is a new second-generation power plant having better fuel efficiency, relatively cheaper, and has an increased thrust than the older first-generation AL-41F1 engines. 

The new second-generation engine also features lower maintenance cost, better performance, and fewer radar signatures. It is more stealthy than its predecessor. It produces a thrust of 107 kN without using an afterburner and 176 kN with afterburners. The new engine has a weight 30% lower than the AL-41F1. 

Integrated Technologies:

The glass cockpit is used in the Su-57 with the 15 in main LCD display. The cockpit uses a Heads-up Display (HUD) of wide-angle (30 by 22 degrees). The aircraft uses the joystick as the primary control and a pair of throttles. 

The Su-57 fighter jet uses the SOZhE-50 life support system and NPP Zvezda K-36D-5 ejection seat. The life support system includes the oxygen generating system and it also provides anti-g capabilities to the pilot. It enables the pilot to perform 9-g maneuvers for about 30 seconds at a time. 

The digital helmet is also used which is connected with the onboard photo and video cameras to provide pilots with improved situational awareness. The survival kit includes an antenna signal mirror, the pan, a first aid kit, a pistol, portable radio, and other eatables. 

The airframe of Su-57 is made of Radar Absorbing Material (RAM) to preserve its stealth capabilities. With the RCS (Radar Cross Section) of 0.1 to 1 m^2 which is thirty times smaller than the Su-27 that is 10 to 15 m^2. The Su-57’s canopy is made of 70 to 90 nm thick layer of metal oxide and composite material to protect the pilot from the impact of ultraviolet and thermal radiations due to the radar return of the cockpit. 

The Su-57’s low observability measures are effective against the high frequency (3 and 30 GHz) radars. But the low-frequency radars such as the early-warning radars and the weather radars have more chance to detect the Su-57 but with less accuracy. 

Avionics:

Avionics includes Sh-121 Multifunctional Integrated Radio Electronic System (MIRES). It consists of the L402 Himalayas Electronic Countermeasure (EW) system and the N036 Byelka radar system. While the electro-optical system used in Su-57 is 101KS Atoll. 

The N036 Byelka radar includes X-band Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. It is developed by the Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Design (NIIP). The Su-57 also has two N036L-1-01 L-band transceivers on the leading edges of the wings that help the pilot in EW (Electronic warfare) and in Friend or Foe (FoW) identification. 

The S-111 system provides the Su-57 with radio communication with other platforms and ground centers. According to the resources, the effective range of the system is 1500 km. It is developed by Polyot Production Corporation. It is a Russian State Aerospace Engineering Corporation best known for its manufacturing of Kosmos-3M space launch vehicles and GLONASS satellites. 

The electro-optical system UOMZ 101KS Atoll includes 101KS-O Directional Infrar-red Countermeasure system, 101KS-V Infra-red search and track turret, 101KS-U Ultraviolet Missile Approach Warning Sensor (MAWS), 101KS-P high-resolution thermal imager, and 101KS-N an external navigation and targeting pod. 

Armament:

The Su-57 stealth fighter has two main internal weapon bays and two small bays on the wing root. Each main weapon bay has approx. 4.6 m long and 1 meter wide. The aircraft has six external hardpoints. 

Su57 fighter jet
The Su-57 with bort number 053 wearing its unique pixelated camouflage that shows the planform view of the Okhotnik remotely piloted aircraft was seen at MAKS 2019 (Image Courtesy: The Aviationist)

Vympel NPO the Russian Research and Production company has developed two ejection launchers for the main bays. The Su-57 can carry four beyond visual range missiles in its main weapon bays and two short-range missiles in its small bays. 

The aircraft is also mounted with 30 mm autocannon near the right LEVCON root. It is a 9A1-4071K class cannon which is the lightest in the 30 mm category with a total weight of about 50 kg. It can fire 1800 rounds/minute. It has a functional range of 800 meters. It can be used against ground, sea, and aerial targets. It is also equipped with an autonomous water cooling system. 

The Su-57 uses Izdeliye 810 beyond visual range missiles to engage and destroy long-range targets. Medium range missile includes Izdeliye 180 (K-77M) with active radar-homing. Short-range missile includes Izdeliye 760 (K-74M2) which is reduced in size for internal carriage. The new Izdeliye 300 (K-MD) short-range missile is developed to replace the older K-74M2 missiles. 

Russian military-industrial complex also developed a small-sized hypersonic air-to-ground missile for internal weapons bay for Su-57. Tass news agency reported. The missile has similar characteristics to the hypersonic missiles of the Dagger Aviation complex. 

Russian Air Force also has the Vympel R-37M hypersonic air-to-air very long-range missile. The NATO reporting name is AA-13 Arrow. It is also known as Izdeliye 610 or K-37. It has a maximum range of around 400 km. The R-37M can move with the speed of Mach 6 with inertial navigation having semi-active and active radar homing. It can be carried with the Su-35S, MiG-31BM, and Su-57 fighter jets. 

Air-to-surface missiles include Kh-38M, KAB-250, or KAB-500 precision-guided bombs. Anti-ship missiles include the improved version of the Kh-35UE missile. Anti-radiation missile Kh-58UShK can also be used with the Su-57 jet. 

Su-57 vs F-22:

Su-57 is the most advanced fighter plane in the Russian forces while F-22 Raptor is the American most sophisticated and advanced jet in its inventory. 

Both these planes have their own plus and minus features and capabilities that make them unique in their role. Like the USAF F-22 is made for offensive roles and to perform deep strike missions. The Su-57 according to military experts has a defensive role in the Air Force to safeguard the Russian air space from intrusion. But it is not bound to just for its defensive role. It can also be used to perform deep strike missions and for offensive roles. 

But either the Su-57 or the F-22 are not used in combat and hence their capabilities are still hidden. Currently, all the 5th-generation jets in service with any force globally are not tested in any combat so it is difficult to say which fighter jet is better than others in terms of its advanced technologies, capabilities, and its role in the air forces. 

Analysis:

The Su-57 as a 5th-generation fighter is no doubt the most advanced aircraft in the Russian Air Force. It will help Russia to replace its old Sukhoi and MiG fighter planes in the coming decades. 

The Su-57 will also serve as the testbed for advanced sixth-generation technologies. New manned and unmanned systems and advanced AI can also be integrated with the jet.

Sources:

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Airforce-Technology
  3. Rand
  4. Tass
  5. Global Security
  6. The Diplomat
  7. The Aviationist

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