Russia’s Su-57 Back In Reckoning For Indian Air Force; Modi, Putin Likely To Discuss Stealth Fighters For IAF

The recent announcement that the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will visit Russia for a summit meeting with President Putin is a strong signal from New Delhi that it will not let its relationship with Moscow weaken.

Deadlier Than Hypersonic Weapon, Why Ukraine Fears Russia’s Kh-22 Missiles More Than Kinzhals?

Prime Minister Modi last visited Russia in 2019 to attend the Far Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. He last met President Putin in 2022 during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Samarkand.

Significantly, the two leaders skipped the traditional annual summit meeting between the executive heads of the two countries in 2022 and 2023.

The timing of Modi’s visit to Moscow, which is expected to take place on July 8-9, is significant. It will be his first bilateral visit since he won a third term in office. In the past, after being sworn in as Prime Minister, he visited neighboring countries like Bhutan, Maldives, and Sri Lanka.

Also, the visit is taking place after Russia and India ironed out the trade settlement difficulties between the two nations, arising from the imbalance in their burgeoning bilateral trade.

Russia, which initially asked India to pay for its oil in Yuan, has now agreed to accept UAE Dirham instead. Additionally, Russia has agreed to invest the $8 billion worth of Indian Rupees that it had accumulated in Indian banks in Indian companies and to buy more electronic goods, pharmaceuticals, agricultural tools, and textiles.

Defence Relations Back On Track

According to reports, the agenda for the Modi and Putin summit includes “a logistics supply agreement to bolster cooperation between the two militaries, restarting discussions on the joint development of a fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), and collaboration on nuclear power.”

The fact that the two countries are once again actively pursuing defense cooperation suggests that the pause in signing major defense agreements was more due to payment difficulties than any Indian fears of Western displeasure.

Joint Development of FGFA

Now that payment difficulties are over, India’s decision to restart joint FGFA development is logical for many reasons.

The FGFA was proposed to be developed using the Su-57 as a baseline. During negotiations, the IAF voiced reservations about the aircraft’s ability to supercruise and its lack of all-around stealth. Also, the IAF wanted a twin-seat fighter.

Based on IAF reservations, India suspended its participation in the FGFA project, but kept open its option to acquire the aircraft at a later date.

In July 2018, India’s Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told Business Standard, “In February, it was conveyed to the Russians that they could go ahead with developing the fighter without us. But the option remains, and we could well go back at a later stage and ask to buy the fighter.”

Since then, Russia has addressed the shortcomings cited by the IAF during development and operational testing.

The latest Su-57 variants feature the AL-51 Stage-2 engines, which facilitate supercruise. The engine thrust is 11 tonnes dry and 17.5 tonnes in afterburner. In comparison, the earlier AL-41F1’s engine thrust was 9 tonnes dry and 14.5 tonnes in afterburner.

The significant increase in engine thrust will facilitate supercruise at up to Mach 1.6. Some Russian sources claim that the Su-57 is now the fastest supercruise fighter, capable of cruising at near Mach 2 without an afterburner.

The Stage 2 engine additionally improves the fighter’s stealth. It features a serrated exhaust nozzle, also known as a chevron nozzle. By altering the exhaust plume’s temperature distribution and shape, serrated nozzles can make the fighter harder for IR and radar sensors to detect and track.

Russia is already developing a twin-seat variant of the fighter for training and loyal wingman UCAV operations.

File Image: Su-57. Via Wikipedia

Exceeding IAF Expectations

Russia has also incorporated other improvements in the fighter, which exceed IAF expectations. For example, Russia is developing a variant of the fighter that will be able to act as a mother ship to orchestrate attacks by stealth UCAV drones deep into adversary territory.

Since India put its FGFA participation on hold, Russia has not only improved the Su-57, but it has also operationally tested the stealth fighter, first in Syria and then in Ukraine.

In addition, Russia has completed the development of a range of weapon systems designed to fit into the aircraft’s internal weapon bays.

Russia ‘Doubles’ Su-57 Production; Ukraine’s F-16 Fighters Likely To Face The Wrath Of RuAF Stealth Jets

Adversary Stealth Fighter Build-Up

Both Indian adversaries, China and Pakistan, have committed to the deployment of stealth fighters in large numbers.

The PLAAF is rapidly building up its Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter bomber inventory, and the PAF plans to acquire the Chinese Shenyang J-31 stealth fighter in large numbers.

The stealth buildup is likely to create an operational gap in the IAF’s capability to safeguard Indian air space. A gap that may tempt our adversaries into adventurism.

According to internet reports, the PLAAF added over 50 J-20 stealth fighters to its inventory from August 2022 to November 2023. Some analysts suggest the production rate may have reached 100 aircraft per year in 2023 and could stabilize at 120 aircraft in 2025.

In comparison, the annual production rate for the Lockheed Martin F-35 is 156 aircraft. However, Lockheed’s annual production caters to the global market. Chengdu has just one client – PLAAF.

In January 2024, PAF’s Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu stated that the “foundation for acquiring the J-31 stealth fighter aircraft has already been laid,” and it’s set to become part of the PAF’s fleet “in the near future.”

Chinese Stealth Jet ‘Outguns’ Indian AMCA; Puts Pakistan A Generation Ahead Of IAF – Chinese Expert

Shenyang Aircraft Corporation has completed the development of the J-31. A customized variant for the PAF is likely under development. Once the customized variant is flight tested, the PAF could sign a firm contract to acquire 25 to 30 J-31s within 2 years. Follow-up contracts are likely.

It is possible that by the year 2030, the PLAAF will be able to field 500 J-20 stealth fighter bombers and the PAF around 100 J-31 stealth fighters.

As things stand, the IAF would have no stealth fighters in its inventory by then. Indian defense planners likely consider this scenario alarming. Waiting for the AMCA may not be an option anymore.


A serious gap in the IAF’s operational capability may emerge from the rapid addition of stealth fighters to the PLAAF inventory and Pakistan’s decision to acquire and deploy J-31 fighters “in the near future.”

The revival of the FGFA project is a good option for India to plug the emerging operational gap.

Russia is firmly committed to supporting India’s desire for localized defense production and sharing defense technology. Russian systems are also known to be cost-effective.

Local production of the only operationally proven stealth fighter will give India’s military-industrial complex a hefty technological boost and eliminate logistical bottlenecks accruing from a longer pipeline when dealing with a foreign vendor.

  • Vijainder K Thakur is a retired IAF Jaguar pilot. He is also an author, software architect, entrepreneur, and military analyst. 
  • Follow the author @vkthakur