Six radars and six more remarkable traits of the Su-57 Felon

Russia’s stealth fifth-generation Su-57 fighter has not yet entered service at the squadron level, but three full units are expected by the end of the current state armaments plan, in 2027.

Truth or rumors - Algeria 'buys' 14 Su-57 fighter jets, Russia media claimed
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Su-57 heavy stealth aircraft will form the backbone of the Russian Navy and possibly Russia’s key defense partners. The system of Russian sensors and modules is expected to provide a significant advantage over existing competitors, the Chinese Chengdu J-20 and the American Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.

The aircraft is one of three fifth-generation fighters produced in the world. Foreign developments are mainly focused on air-to-air or air-to-ground missions, compared to them the Su-57 looks more balanced and without obvious specialization. The fighter stands out among fifth-generation fighters and combines technologies that its foreign competitors do not have, making it a completely different type of aircraft.

In my opinion, the delay in the adoption program means that it must be able to counter not only the F-35 but also operate where American and Chinese sixth-generation fighters will dominate in the future.

Thrust vectoring engine: J-20 performs strong maneuvers at low speed
Photo credit: ADN

Russian engineers have begun tests to integrate next-generation technologies into the airframe of the Su-57. While all of this is yet to come to fruition, many of the fighter’s existing features are already outstanding and unparalleled. Here are seven of the most notable in my opinion:

Six radars

While most fighters, including all competing fifth-generation models, rely on just one radar, as many as six are integrated into the Su-57’s airframe. This could potentially provide a significant advantage in situational awareness on the battlefield.

For example, several are already on the Su-35 fighter, the passive electronic scanning radar Irbis-E, and two more active phased array radars [AFAR] operating in the L-band are mounted in the nose of the vehicle.

Completely new 'smart' Su-57 fighter jet was tested in Russia
Photo credit: AvioBlog

Six radars will allow not only to track 60 targets simultaneously but also to work in different wavelength ranges. This optimizes it for electronic warfare and will allow you to detect fine targets at long range. Radars are distributed throughout the hull, allowing for 360-degree detection.

K-77M guided missile

The K-77M is optimized to engage small and maneuverable targets with a nose-mounted AFAR guidance system. With an increased range of 200 km, the fin-cut missile is placed in the internal weapon bays.

Russian media describe AFAR’s work on the K-77M as follows: “The active phased array antenna consists of a large number of cone-shaped cells installed under a cover that is transparent to radio waves on the nose of the missile. Each cell receives only part of the signal, but after digital processing the information from all cells is summed up and allows the missile K -77M to immediately react to sharp turns of targets, making interception almost inevitable.”

Extreme range

Like its Su-27 and MiG-31 predecessors, the new Su-57 has a much greater range [over 1,500 km] and airspeed [over Mach 2] than any competitor. After the end of the Cold War, when the size of the Russian Air Force was drastically reduced, much attention was paid to high endurance. This will allow the remaining units to cover the vast airspace of the country.

Photo credit: Rostec

The long-range of the Su-57 allows fighters to hit targets not only across Europe but also far into the Atlantic Ocean. It would also cover most of the Pacific theater of operations. Countries like Japan, Taiwan, and Korea are within its reach. Russia’s lack of aircraft carriers made this potential more valuable.

Laser protection

One new feature that has received relatively little attention is the Targeted Infrared Countermeasures System, which blinds incoming missiles once they are detected by the fighter’s missile launch detector ports. The equipment is mounted behind and below the cockpit, it is unique as no other fighter in the world has it.

Russia has already installed this system on large helicopters, although it was less compact than those installed on the Su-57. Laser beams are particularly useful against infrared-guided missiles such as the American AIM-9X or the British AIM-132.

'Non-classical' Su-57s are using Soviet-made Kh-59 ASM in Ukraine
Photo credit: TASS

Since the MANPADS also uses infrared targeting, laser protection could allow the Su-57 to provide more effective air support. In addition, it will complement the fighter with stealth capabilities, and reduce the radar cross-section and infrared visibility.

Exceptional maneuverability

Since 1982, Soviet and Russian aircraft have been leading in terms of maneuverability, and by a significant margin, when the MiG-29 entered service, and three years later, the Su-27.

Their success was further developed by the Su-27M and Su-37 developed in the 1990s, which had an exceptional level of maneuverability. The aircraft owes these characteristics to engines with a variable thrust vector. Alas, none of them were put into mass production.

Developed for India and entered service in 2002, the Su-30MKI became the first production fighter equipped with engines with variable vector thrust distribution. It was followed 12 years later by the Su-35, which had even greater thrust provided by AL-41 power plants and three-dimensional thrust vector control.

The Su-57 fighter builds on these achievements not only with a much better thrust-to-weight ratio but also with the exceptional power of the Saturn engines and an airframe designed for greater maneuverability. All this will allow the aircraft to avoid missile attacks at high speed and position itself better in air combat at low speed.

Russia showed almost assembled second production Su-57 fighter [photos]
Photo credit: Naked Science

Short runway

Since the 1980s in the USSR, great attention has been paid to the ability of aircraft to operate with minimal maintenance and to land and take off from temporary, non-permanent runways. This was embodied in the MiG-29 and Yak-41 fighters, which could use short runways compared to other fighters, especially Western ones.

The Su-57 has greatly improved takeoff and landing performance and is capable of taking off from very short distances, potentially making it suitable for use on aircraft carriers with minimal adaptation. The aircraft is equipped with heavy-duty landing gear and large tires, which allows it to take off from improvised airfields.

Hypersonic ballistic missiles

After the 9-A-7660 Kinzhal ballistic missile entered service in late 2017, plans were announced to develop a miniaturized version for its integration into the Su-57. This would make it the only combat aircraft in the world capable of striking with hypersonic ballistic missiles.

Delivery of new Su-57 stealths to the Russian VKS amid sanctions
Photo credit: UAC

The missile is considered ideal for anti-ship and precision strikes against command centers, logistics centers, airfields, and other important targets deep behind enemy lines. She will be able to neutralize most warships with one accurate hit due to her kinetic energy on impact.

High maneuverability and accuracy combined with speed made the missile extremely difficult to intercept. It remains unclear whether the miniature version will retain the original range of 2,000 km and whether it will also be able to carry nuclear warheads.

The high endurance and stealth of the Su-57, combined with such a weapon, will make it an attack platform that has no rivals. Fitting a hypersonic missile on a fighter jet represents an attempt to capitalize on a key area of Russian technological leadership – hypersonic weapons.

The fact that Su-57 is a front-line fighter designed for very wide use is expected to be over 200 by the end of 2030. The ability to strike with ballistic missiles makes it particularly dangerous, with the damage that a squadron can cause, very significant.


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