F-22, F-35, and J-20 don’t have the engagement range of the Su-57

Since its introduction to the Russian Air Force in December 2020, the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet has distinguished itself through a unique design philosophy that bestows it with remarkable firepower superiority over its counterparts. 

Su-57's AESA isn't dangerous to F-35, but the passive sensors are
Photo credit: Getty Images

A common hurdle affecting the combative prowess of fifth-generation planes lies in their limited weapon-holding capacity. To maintain their stealth profiles, such aircraft must carry all armaments in internal weapons bays, which curtails their radar cross-section. 

The F-22 and the Chinese J-20 are examples. They can each store six long-range air-to-air missiles – the AIM-120C/D and PL-15, respectively – along with two additional short-range missiles. This configuration yields a total of eight missiles. 

The smaller American F-35, however, has a more stringent limitation, with room for just four missiles. Efforts are underway to address this shortcoming. Still, the nature of the F-35 and the size restrictions of its weapon bays mean it will continue to trail its larger, twin-engine rivals in firepower. 

Russian Su-57 Felon gets a R-37M missile with a 300 km range
Photo credit: Sukhoi

Unlike these aircraft, the Su-57 can house eight missiles, six of which are long-range R-77M missiles. These reside in unique tandem weapon bays, while two small-diameter short-range missiles are stowed in mini bays under the plane’s wing roots, a design shared by the F-22 and J-20. 

What sets the Su-57 apart, however, is its ability to carry not only the longer-range air-to-air missiles but also the larger long-range cruise missiles. These have been deployed in actual combat missions, further highlighting the Su-57’s versatility. 

The Su-57’s primary air-to-air weapons include the R-77M and R-37M air-to-air missiles. The latter gained notoriety for its efficient use against Ukrainian targets in 2022, demonstrating its power and precision. 

In today's warfighting environment, the F-35 outperforms the F-22
Photo credit: via Twitter

One of the Su-57’s distinct advantages over similar generation fighters is its compatibility with the R-37M. This missile grants an engagement range of 400km, allowing the Su-57 to neutralize enemy aircraft from a distance greater than twice that of the F-22, F-35, or J-20.

With a notable speed of Mach 6 and a 61 kg payload – a size considerably larger than that of the Chinese PL-15 or American AIM-120D, the missile surpasses its counterparts. However, its larger size and weight mean that only four can be accommodated by each fighter. 

Primarily serving as the main ammunition for the MiG-31 interceptor – the world’s largest combat aircraft designed for air-to-air operations, the R-37 forms a key component. The missile’s miniaturised version currently under the izdeliye 810 program is being tailored for the Su-57. 

F-22 Raptor has a suitability and cyber survivability issue
Photo credit: Pixabay

Certain reports suggest that the izdeliye 810 missile has been operational and utilized in Ukraine. Its substantial air-to-air engagement range—when coupled with the Su-57’s stealth prowess—enables it to endanger vital enemy support entities like AEW&C aircraft and bombers from considerable distances. This combination results in a heightened sense of uncertainty regarding the zones where these aircraft can safely operate. 

New missiles specialized for targeting objects with stealth characteristics for the fighter are currently under significant development. 

Noteworthy for the array of air-to-surface weaponry it employs along with its ranges, Russia’s stealth fighter primarily utilizes the Kh-59MK2 cruise missile. This missile is optimized to neutralize small hardened targets from distances nearing 300km. 

The missile is equipped with a 320 kg penetrating warhead and an alternative smaller pellet warhead designed to affect targets over a broader area. Other proposed warheads include a more powerful penetrator and a cluster munition carrier. 

Thrust vectoring engine: J-20 performs strong maneuvers at low speed
Photo credit: eng.chinamil.com.cn

Being subsonic enables the missile to cover a wider distance despite its compact size. It has been battle-tested in both Syria and Ukraine. This versatility has positioned the Su-57 as the only fighter of its generation to participate in air-to-air combat to execute strike missions against a significant state opponent and carry out standoff precision strikes. 

An engagement scope of 300 km holds value considering the Su-57’s lesser stealth skills as compared to the J-20 or F-35. This allows it to target objects deep within enemy lines without dangerously encroaching upon enemy air defenses. 

The Su-57’s assortment also includes Kh-58UShKE, an anti-radiation missile meant to neutralize enemy radar locations and air defense systems; the lighter Kh-38 cruise missile that can be carried in larger numbers although with reduced range, and a miniaturized derivative of the Kh-47M2 ballistic missile which has been highly tested in combat, especially from other aircraft in Ukraine. 

When it comes to actual combat usage—predominantly high-intensity combat against a major state military—the Su-57 is unique among fighters of its generation. Its standout attributes include its engagement range and the broad variety of long-range missiles it can employ.

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