Why Russia accelerated Su-57 production and the F-16 connection
The Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, recently announced at a Coordinating Council meeting that there will be an increase in the supply of fifth-generation fighters. This follows the delivery of a new batch of Su-35S aircraft to the Ministry of Defense in late June. He also revealed that the Su-57, a more advanced model, will shortly be dispatched to the troops.
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Importance for 5th-gen aircraft
Mishustin’s announcement came after a new fleet of Su-35S aircraft was handed over to the Ministry of Defense towards the end of June. However, these are 4++ generation combat vehicles. The more advanced Su-57 aircraft, part of the domestic fifth-generation, are expected to follow. Reports from a year ago indicated that these aircraft were undergoing testing in combat conditions within the ‘special combat operation’ [SCO or NVO] zone.
Retired Major General and Honored Military Pilot of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Popov, in an interview with NEWS.ru, shed light on the speed of these aircraft’ delivery to the troops. “The first batch of Su-57s is expected to be delivered by the end of next year. This initial batch comprises around 60 aircraft, enough to retrain two air regiments for the new aircraft. The retraining process for pilots and technicians is already underway,” Popov explained.
Popov further stated that the Center for the combat use of Aviation in Lipetsk is already facilitating such retraining, using the machines from the first batch that have left the factories. He emphasized the need to expedite the delivery of the latest equipment to the troops, given the escalating military-political situation. “Mishustin is correct in his urgency. However, we must implement these actions in a planned and not hasty manner,” Popov added.
What engines will power the Su-57?
Popov explained that the current Su-57 fleet is equipped with upgraded engines from the Su-35. These are set to be replaced by a second enhanced batch, featuring improved throttle response and overall reliability. Following this upgrade, the engines will also be lighter, a critical factor for combat aircraft.
He added that the new engine version is not yet in production. “However, as far as I am aware, testing is underway, and the results thus far are promising. Importantly, we have factories, such as the Rybinsk plant and the Moscow Salyut plant, that are capable of swiftly transitioning to the production of a new engine,” the general concluded.
The distinction between the Su-57 and F-16
An enlightening conversation with military expert Alexander Artamonov, hosted by NEWS.ru, sheds light on the Prime Minister’s call to boost the production of fifth-generation aircraft. Artamonov suggests that this directive could be a response to the looming prospect of Ukraine acquiring equivalent aircraft from NATO nations, such as the American F-16 and the French Mirage-2000.
Artamonov interprets Prime Minister Mishustin’s statement as an indirect confirmation of governmental awareness regarding Ukraine’s impending acquisition of F-16 and Mirage-2000 aircraft.
Artamonov recalls reports from Western media earlier this spring that Ukrainian pilots were undergoing training at two French Air Force bases for the Mirage-2000. He proposes that Western powers aim to maintain the status quo in Ukraine, fortifying the country for a more significant conflict in the future. Retired Vice Marshal of the British Air Force, Sean Bell, agrees, stating that NATO’s current goal is to solidify control over Ukraine, under Kyiv’s governance, and establish necessary resources there.
From Artamonov’s perspective, this could result in a heavily armed Ukraine, bolstered by fourth-generation aircraft and a fortified contact line, within the next 8-10 years. He suggests that NATO strategists may view the F-16 and Mirage-2000 as the decisive argument to compel Russia to engage in negotiations.
However, Artamonov asserts that Russia could assert its dominance through the use of fifth-generation aircraft. Notably, the F-16 and Mirage-2000 are fourth-generation aircraft, whereas Russia’s Su-57s offer superior technical capabilities. For instance, while the F-16 radar can detect targets up to 120 kilometers away, the Su-57 radar boasts a range of 300 kilometers.
The divergence between 5th-gen and prior aircraft
Despite the advancements of fifth-generation aircraft, Popov asserts that the 4++ generation aircraft currently in Russia’s Aerospace Forces arsenal are still competitive. The Su-34, Su-35, and MiG-35, he claims, offer comparable capabilities at a more affordable price due to their established production lines and proven reliability.
Popov argues that enhancing the production of 4++ generation aircraft and intensifying personnel training would adequately meet the needs of front-line aviation. However, he insists this would necessitate the restoration of the regimental and divisional structure of the Air Force, including about 10 regiments of front-line aviation.
While he acknowledges the necessity of continued training for fifth-generation aircraft, Popov believes that the reinforcement of aviation power should be achieved through proven 4++ generation machines.
Popov confidently predicts that this approach would ensure adequate front-line aviation resources to address any forthcoming geopolitical issues, which he believes are inevitable.
Surveying the current aircraft of the Russian Air Force
Popov identifies the Su-24 and Su-25, MiG-29, and Su-27 as “Soviet classics” that, with comprehensive modernization, could continue to serve effectively for another 10-20 years.
The Su-25 attack aircraft, which underwent its inaugural testing during the Afghanistan war in the 1980s, currently forms the backbone of direct air support for troops. Known as the “Rook” among troops, this aircraft boasts an armored cabin and a high payload capacity.
In tandem with the Su-25, the Su-24 front-line bombers, equipped with a variable-sweep wing for efficient maneuverability at varying flight speeds, play a crucial role. The latest version of this aircraft, the Su-24M2, has been operational since 2007.
The Su-35 [in its latest iteration, the Su-35S] and MiG-35 form the foundation of the Aerospace Forces’ fighter fleet. These 4++ generation aircraft, with the MiG-35 in service since 2019 and the Su-35 since 2014, are distinguished by their thrust vectoring engines, which enhance in-flight maneuverability.
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