A few days after Russia launched its military operations in Ukraine, a video purportedly showing a Russian Su-57 fighter jet flying over northern Ukraine surfaced on the internet. However, the claims remained unverified back as there was no official confirmation from Moscow.
The Su-57 stealth fighters are now believed to have made their combat debut in Ukraine more than three months into the war, amid doubts over Russia’s reluctance to deploy its ‘best’ fighter jets.
The Sukhoi Su-57 Felon, the newest fighter jet of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) and the only stealthy fighter in its arsenal, was deployed during a military operation in Ukraine, a source in the military-industrial complex informed state-media TASS.
The source that spoke to TASS on the condition of anonymity stated that the aircraft has potentially been active through the entire duration of the war being fought in Ukraine. However, the information could not be independently verified by EurAsian Times.
“The use of Su-57 aircraft in Ukraine began two to three weeks after the start of the special operation. The aircraft operated outside the zone of active destruction by enemy air defense systems, using missile weapons,” the agency’s interlocutor said.
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Two weeks into the war, just before Russia and Ukraine began negotiations in Turkey, social media was ablaze with rumors that Russia’s Southern Military District had deployed the jet to Ukraine.
In addition, local media had reported that a fighter similar to the Su-57 had been spotted in Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region just hours before the two foreign ministers landed in Turkey, as previously noted by EurAsian Times.
Su-57s Combat Deployment
If the Russian Defence Ministry confirms the report of the Su-57’s deployment, this would be the first time the Russian stealth fighter has been used in a combat mission. A prototype of this aircraft was sent to Syria’s Khmeimim Airbase in 2018 and 2019. Su-57 fired a cruise missile, probably a Kh-59MK2, in one of these deployments.
In 2018, the Russian Defence Ministry published a video showing the country’s most advanced stealth fighters flying sorties in Syria.
It has been widely believed that Russia used the war-torn region as a test-bed for its Su-57 stealth fighter jets. The video was accompanied by a statement that read that the fighter had flown about 10 sorties in Syria by February 2018.
The defense ministry had then stated that “the flights were performed to confirm the stated capabilities of the newest plane in a real combat environment.” The fighter reportedly bombed Syrian rebels and Islamic State fighters in support of Syrian President Bashar al-military Assad’s campaign.
Shortly after the 2018 deployment, the Kremlin put a stop to Su-57 production after the 28th copy, thus almost killing the program. In mid-2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a proposal to purchase an additional 48 copies, bringing the program back to life, according to The National Interest.
The Kremlin ordered the first dozen Su-57s in August 2018, with the goal of forming the first regular squadron in 2019. The second combat deployment came in 2019 in Syria again. With the aircraft now believed to be flying sorties in Ukraine, it could be expected to gather precious combat experience against a different landscape than that of Syria.
Sukhoi Su-57 Felon
The Su-57 is a single-seat, twin-engine multi-role fighter developed by Sukhoi. It has been designed for land and maritime strikes as well as aerial combat. It will replace Russian military aircraft such as the MiG-29 and Su-27.
The Su-57’s radar cross-section (RCS) area is expected to be thirty times smaller than the Su-27’s. Unlike American stealth designs like the F-22 Raptors or the F-35, the RCS lowering features are more visible in the forward portion of the aircraft, most likely due to cost-cutting.
It could possibly be because of the Russian doctrine of flying aircraft under the protection of friendly integrated air defense systems.
The Su-57 is built for long endurance and maneuverability. It has highly integrated modern sensor systems that let it track up to 60 objects at once using six radars aboard.
The fighter can carry two short-range infrared homing K-74M2 missiles as well as four medium-range K-77M air-to-air missiles with AESA seeker for beyond visible range (BVR) warfare. The aircraft can also be fitted with a variety of precision-guided bombs, air-to-ground missiles, anti-ship missiles, anti-radiation missiles, and cruise missiles.
A 30 mm auto-cannon with 150 cartridges is mounted on the fighter jet, having an effective range of 800 meters against aerial targets and 1800 meters against surface targets.
In December 2020, the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) received the first Su-57. So far, four aircraft have been built, the first of which crashed in 2019 before being given to the military, and the third and fourth of which were delivered to the VKS in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Analysts have so far expressed skepticism about the deployment of Su-57 in Ukraine. Against this backdrop, experts believe that Moscow would send these advanced fighter jets to Ukraine, given its lack of operational readiness for high or medium-intensity conflict. However, only the Russian Ministry of Defence could put all speculations to rest with an official statement.