Moscow has plans for Su-57 and that doesn’t sit well with Washington
MOSCOW ($1=71.87 Russian Rubles) — The war in Ukraine that began this year in Europe proved the claim that the Russian military-industrial complex is large. Of course, it cannot be compared with the one from the era of the Soviet Union. We can even argue that currently, Russian arms production is on the wave of momentum from that of the Soviets. But it is beginning to undergo changes that will be reflected in the following decades, and in a positive way.
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At a time of war, when all the resources of the military budget are directed to the production of weapons, Moscow began the modernization of the plant in A. Gagarin in Komsomolsk on the Amur. He did it after waiting for the reaction, especially from the US. Washington imposed sanctions specifically on the plant on February 6. Later in May, Japan did the same. However, in August, Moscow decided to show that the sanctions, which concern the suspension of access to modern technologies, have no effect.
Modernization of production
The modernization of the plant where the Su-57 is produced is big. It began in August and Moscow announced it would cost billions of dollars. A clear signal was sent by Russia that the future of Russian aviation is called the Su-57 Felon. How many new production halls have started to be built. A new cold chamber to facilitate the coating of the Su-57 is now operational.
On December 28, the Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant delivered four Su-57 fighters to the Russian Air and Space Forces [VKS]. The plant announced that it has produced everything planned for 2022, and orders for 2023 are currently on the production line. Minister of Industry and Trade Mr. Denis Manturov said on December 28 that new technological equipment has already been put into operation, staff has been hired, and the new production line is currently being assembled. The main goal of the plant is to increase the serial production of the Su-57 to 14-15 units per year.
Russia is building the future Air Force fleet around the Su-57 Felon. Three Su-57 squadrons should be operationally ready in 2027 [76 units]. Such is Moscow’s plans. It is now clear that the first squadron will be the 23rd regiment located near the aircraft factory. This regiment is always the first to receive new fighters.
4th-gen fighters will gradually disappear
According to Russian experts, increasing the production of the Su-57 will reduce the production of three Russian combat aircraft – the Su-30 Flanker-C, the Su-34 Fullback, and the Su-35 Flanker-E. In this way, the Su-57 becomes important not only for the domestic market but also for the international one. It is expected that in the coming years the share of the Su-57 in the international markets will increase. Logically, even one sale of the Su-57 outside the borders of the Russian Federation will mean an increased market share, since the Su-57 is currently produced only for Russia.
Moscow is taking another action showing the importance of the Su-57 to Russian aviation. The plant in Komsomolsk on Amur will not be the only manufacturer of the planes. Other production lines around Risia are expected to take over this production. For example, the Irkutsk Aviation Plant is expected to fully switch to serial production of Felons. This means that the Su-30SM/SM2 will gradually cease to be produced.
Some improvements need
How will all this tip the scales in Russia’s favor? A phase-out of some Russian fighter jets means focusing a large portion of the Air Force’s military budget solely on upgrading the Su-57 and developing a sixth-generation fighter. It is not clear the fate of another aircraft that appeared last year – the Su-75 Checkmate. We wrote that the chances of the Su-75 getting on the production line are minimal.
Three fifth-generation fighters are currently in serial production worldwide. The American Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, the Chinese Chengdu J-20, and the Russian Sukhoi Su-57 Felon. However, the Russian fighter is difficult to call the fifth generation, although, of all Russian fighters, it is the closest to this categorization. There are some improvements it needs to undergo. These include an increase in stealth technology, new sensors, and a new engine. However, all this is in the pre-premiere process – it is expected that in 2023, two of the three will be produced.
Despite the war, Russia also wins. Or, more precisely, because of the war, the prices of petroleum products rose, which is good news for Russia. Some markets closed before Moscow, but others opened. China, for example, announced that it had increased imports of Russian gas and oil by nearly 35% compared to previous years. At the same time, Algeria and Kazakhstan, key customers of the Russian arms business, remain constant in their orders from Russia. There is even speculation that the first Su-57E – the export version – will be exported.
US and China are pressuring
Although fourth-generation aircraft continue to dominate, fifth-generation aircraft are increasingly expanding their market positions. Especially the American F-35. This is a pressure that the West, knowingly or not, is exerting against Moscow.
Thus, Russia cannot afford to fall behind and is forced to expand Su-57 production as well. Of course, Russia will have to deal with its severe delay. The Soviet Union was supposed to be the first country with fifth-generation fighters, but this did not happen. The US has come to dominate this market, and China is closest to US production potential, although it is also significantly behind.
The development of the Su-57 is seen as a vital and determining factor in the effectiveness of the Russian Air Force. China is advancing, the US is not stopping, and most likely both countries will present a sixth-generation fighter at the same time. Sometime in the year 2030, at least such are the forecasts. Russia sees an opportunity only in the production of the Su-57. And although in 2030 the Su-57 will be a practically obsolete aircraft, it remains the most practical option for Moscow to deal with the growing threats.
Even today, the Su-57 has its advantages over the F-35 and J-20. More maneuverable than the two [although, this is not so important today], it has a competitive six hundred AESA radar, access to APAA-guided R-77M air-to-air missiles, and use of unique laser defense systems.
Beijing is the key
Last but not least is access to technology. Even if the war ends at this point, even if Russia withdraws all its troops from the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories, even if it leaves Crimea and admits defeat to Ukraine [which is unlikely], the sanctions against the Russian economy and arms production will not be lifted. This means that Moscow has to look for technology from another source.
China maintains neutrality regarding the war in Ukraine but has not stopped exporting materials, components, electronics, and equipment to Russia. It is Beijing that will be key in the future of Russian aviation. Greater Chinese support and technology for the Su-57 program and its future successors is an opportunity that will re-strengthen Russia’s position. Something that is not liked in Washington.
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