Russia praises the Su-57 but remains tight-lipped about its stealth

Moscow has long been singing the praises of its Sukhoi Su-57 [referred to by NATO as “Felon”], yet the aircraft remains conspicuously absent from the airspace over Ukraine. 

Russia will unveil the export Sukhoi Su-57E fighter in India
Photo credit: Rosoboronexport

Granted, if we consider launching long-range missiles into Ukraine as a significant threat in the recent conflict, then this absence could take on a different meaning. However, it’s important to look at the bigger picture.

The ‘stealthy’ Su-57 

To a casual spectator, Moscow might appear reluctant to use its aircraft in the Ukrainian conflict. Are they possibly apprehensive because Sukhoi’s advanced stealth fighter isn’t as technologically superior as they claimed? 

Doubts linger about its stealth capabilities. As per the aviation enthusiasts at, Felon’s stealth credentials do not convince them completely. 

This robust online platform catering to military aviation enthusiasts gathered viewpoints from various aircraft scholars. The consensus? The Su-57’s lower radar signature doesn’t match up to the likes of Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II. 

F-35 fighter jet by Lockheed Martin
Photo by Mikaela Maschmeier

Abhirup Sengupta, a respected voice in the aviation field, elucidates, “Sukhoi claims Su-57 has an RCS goal between 0.1 to 1 m^2 [-10 to 1 dBsm]. But consider this – the F-117 had an RCS of approximately -25 dBsm, and both the F-22 and F-35 boast an RCS superior to -40 dBsm. This indicates a difference of 1,000 to 10,000 times when compared with Su-57. Please note, these comparisons are drawn based on the unclassified program goals and YF-117’s RCS testing data from Skunk Works.”

The Su-57 is the American F-18 SH 

Sengupta furthered the discussion about the goal, which aimed to engineer an existing airframe [Su-27], to minimize the Radar Cross Section [RCS] without necessitating the foundation of a completely new model. “The absence of basic features such as Serpentine intakes, pivotal for serious LO signature, manifests the Sukhoi Design Bureau’s intent. Essentially, the Su-57 shares considerable resemblance with the US Navy’s F-18 Super Hornet program,” explained Sengupta.

Su-27 blocked USAF RQ-4B Global Hawk approaching the Russian border
Photo by Vitalyi Nevar

Russia says…

In a televised interview on Zvezda TV Channel back in the latter portion of 2018, Mikhail Strelets, who serves as both the chief designer and director for the eminent Sukhoi Design Bureau, confidently declared the Su-57’s superiority over its competitors; the F-35 and the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. 

Strelets boldly claimed the Su-57 is unrivaled within the realm of fifth-generation aircraft. He even cheekily used a cryptic numerical comparison, stating, “It wasn’t intentional, but it’s interesting to note that if you add 22 and 35, you surprisingly get 57.” 

Notwithstanding the occasional commendations from NATO F-35 pilots about the Lightning II’s abilities, Russian aviators have been quite dismissive of it. 

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

Renowned test pilot, Magomed Tolboyev, confidently stated on his 70th birthday in an interview with Tass, “Given a one-on-one confrontation, a Su-57 would easily defeat an F-35. Though the F-35 has substantial electronic capabilities, it lacks maneuverability. However, in this era of advanced warfare, it’s not about a single aircraft entering the battlefield. It’s about a multifaceted tactical approach and the support received. We’re not dealing with a simple sparring mat anymore.” 

It’s intriguing to note that, in recent years, while Russia has extensively touted the Su-57’s maneuverability and weapon capacity, its stealth factor has been played down significantly. Maybe Russia is keeping its cards close to its chest, aware that the Felon might be rather detectable on radar.


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