On December 27, 2023, the UAC delivered the final batch of fifth-generation Su-57 fighters to the Russian Ministry of Defence (RuMoD) under the 2023 production program.
In 2023, the UAC ramped up its Su-57 production capability and spruced up its assembly line for the aircraft. It eliminated bottlenecks, not just in the final assembly shop but throughout the entire production cycle.
Procurement of high-tech components from supplier factories was streamlined, and aircraft assembly technology improvements were initiated.
In a statement to the press service of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, Sergey Chemezov, CEO of Rostec, said, “In the final assembly shop, work is already underway on combat vehicles that will be transferred to the Russian Aerospace Forces in 2024. The number of fifth-generation fighters entering the military almost doubles every year.”
The statement implied that in 2024, Rostec would double production.
Current & Future Inventory
During Army 2019, the UAC and the RuMoD signed a contract for the supply of 76 Su-57 fighters to the Russian Aerospace Forces as part of the State Armament Program until 2027.
Based on past reports in the Russian media, here is an attempt to extrapolate the time frame by which Rostec would be able to fulfill the contract following the production ramp-up initiated in 2023.
On November 22, 2019, Rostec announced, through a press release, that its subsidiary ONPP Technologiya would supply 74 composite kit sets from 2020 to 2028 to Sukhoi for the production of Su-57 fighters.
Before the start of the Special Military Operation (SMO) on February 24, 2022, the Su-57 was under low initial rate serial production (LIRP), which was planned to be stepped up in a phased manner.
In November 2020, a source told TASS that the production rate for the Su-57 will eventually grow to 15 aircraft a year. In August 2020, Izvestia reported that the full rate of production would be achieved by 2024.
In November 2021, Izvestia reported, “In December, four production Su-57 fighters are to be transferred to the Russian Aerospace Forces from the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Plant.”
With the delivery of a new batch of aircraft, the number of such fighters in the Armed Forces will reach five units, the report added. According to one report, the Russian Air Force received one Su-57 fighter in 2020 and three in 2021, making a total of four. Let us assume this report was correct.
As of December 2022, Rostec subsidiary United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) had delivered 10 Su-57 fighters. This would imply that UAC delivered 6 aircraft in 2022, which is double than 3 delivered in 2021.
Ahead of Army 2023, Vladimir Artyakov, First Deputy General Director of Rostec, told Izvestia that Russia plans to significantly increase the rate of production of the Su-57. It’s likely that Rostec is now striving to achieve a maximum production rate earlier than planned.
Going by the latest statement from the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, it is likely that Rostec delivered 12 Su-57 fighters in 2023, bringing the total number of aircraft delivered to 22. Also, Rostec is set to achieve full rate production of 15 aircraft per year in 2024.
Based on the above extrapolation, by the end of 2024, the Russian Aerospace forces would have 37 Su-57 fighters. According to the original production plan, the end of 2024 total production number was 24.
Assuming a 15 aircraft per year rate of production from 2024 onwards, the RuMoD order for 76 aircraft would be fulfilled well before the end of 2027.
It’s highly likely that so far, the RuAF has utilized its Su-57 fighters exclusively for operational testing, tactics development, and training. With 22 aircraft in its inventory, the RuAF now has the numbers to start raising its first operational regiment of Su-57 fighters.
Assuming that around 8 fighters would continue to be deployed for operational testing and tactics development, some would likely be available for combat operations.
With 15 additional fighters being added to the RuAF inventory in 2024, the number of stealth fighters available for operational deployment would increase rapidly.
The Ukrainian Air Force (UAF) will start feeling the impact of Su-57 deployment in the coming months.
The following paragraphs dwell on the likely operational impact of the Su-57.
Dark Mode Operations
Operating in dark mode, a Su-57 would keep its radar and other RF emitters off to avoid passive detection by the adversary while using its stealth shaping to avoid radar detection.
The Su-57 has good front-aspect stealth – almost as good as the front-aspect stealth of a F-22 Raptor. As a result, the Su-57 will be able to operate closer to the battlefront, without detection by Ukrainian air defense (AD) radars, as compared to 4+ generation RuAF fighters such as the Su-35S.
While it may be possible for the AN/MPQ-65 search radar of a US Patriot AD system placed close to the Ukrainian battlefront to detect a RuAF Su-34 operating 100 km behind the battlefront, it would not be possible for the US radar to detect a Su-57 even 25 km behind the battlefront.
More importantly, the Su-57 will detect radio emissions from the AN/MPQ-65 well before the AN/MPQ-65 detects the reflected emissions from the Su-57, even when the US radar is operating in low probability of interception (LPI) mode.
As soon as the Su-57 detects the radar emissions, the coordinates of the radar would be transmitted over a secure data link to a Kh-31P anti-radiation missile armed Su-35S or Su-34, operating well behind the battlefront, out of the detection range of the AN/MPQ-65.
As a result, the AN/MPQ-65 will be destroyed well before the Patriot system gets a chance to launch its PAC-3 interceptor missile at the Su-57.
The possibility of a NATO AWACS providing cuing data directly to a Patriot missile firing radar (MFR) would also be minimal. Even for an AWACS, the detection range of a Su-57 would be significantly less. Besides, NATO AWACS, for their own safety, have to operate from well outside Ukrainian airspace.
Long Range Stealthy Missiles & Bombs
Unlike the F-22 Raptor, which is designed to penetrate contested airspace and strike targets with short-range precision-guided munitions (PGM), the Su-57 is designed to approach contested airspace and strike targets with long-range PGMs, including missiles that cannot be intercepted because of their stealth shaping or hypersonic speeds.
The difficult-to-intercept cruise missiles include the Kh-69, a stealth variant of the Kh-59Mk-2, with a range of 290 km, and the Gremlin (Product 70) hypersonic missile with a reported range of 1500 km and a speed of Mach 6.
The Gremlin will be powered by the Product 70 ramjet engine being developed by the Soyuz TMKB (Turaevskoe Machine-Building Design Bureau). As such, the missile would be capable of maneuverable flight at hypersonic speed for a long time.
Non-stealthy long-range cruise missiles that can be launched by a Su-57 from close to the battlefront include the Kh-35UE missile with a maximum range of 260 km; the supersonic Kh-31PD anti-radiation missile for use against air defense systems, with a range of 250 km; the Kh-58UShKE missile, designed to destroy pulse radars, can hit targets within 245 km.
Currently, Russian strategic aviation and RuAF fighters launch cruise missiles from considerable distance behind the battlefront. Not only does that reduce the strike range of the missiles, but Ukrainian AD starts to track the missiles well before they enter Ukrainian airspace.
Also, it makes the routing of the missile more predictable. All that will change once RuAF Su-57 fighters start launching missiles from close proximity to the battlefront.
Spelling Doom For Ukrainian F-16 Operations
Zelensky and the UAF have great hopes on the F-16s being gifted to them by NATO.
For the UAF, the most important advantage of operating F-16s would be
Integration with NATO AWACS improving situational awareness
Better integration of NATO weapons such as cruise missiles, glide bombs, and AIM-120 air-to-air missiles.
Posing increased risk to RuAF fighter operations on account of the longer range of F-16 air-to-air missiles
RuAF Su-57s on patrol along the battlefront would negate all the advantages in one fell swoop. Even while operating in dark mode, RuAF Su-57s will be able to detect and engage NATO F-16s well before the F-16s are alerted to the presence of the Su-57s.
The F-16s will have longer-range AIM-120 air-to-air missiles than the Soviet-era fighters that the UAF is operating currently, But the Su-57 will have even longer range air-to-air missiles like the RVV-BD.
In 2024, the number of RuAF Su-57s deployed operationally would be large enough to – not just completely negate the deployment of F-16s by the UAF but also to achieve Russia’s SMO aims without unnecessarily making Ukraine lose another 100,000 more soldiers, as well as Odessa and Kharkiv!
- Vijainder K Thakur is a retired IAF Jaguar pilot. He is also an author, software architect, entrepreneur, and military analyst. VIEWS PERSONAL OF THE AUTHOR
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