Unlike F-35, Su-57’s shape and airframe interfere with stealth

Moscow’s Su-57 Felon fighter jet, billed as a fifth-generation fighter, continues to generate controversy due to undisclosed specifics and apparent discrepancies. Moscow often characterizes the Su-57 as the globe’s “most dangerous” fifth-generation fighter. Yet, history shows us that the Kremlin’s weapon announcements often fall through. How can we believe the buzzwords from Red Square? 

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

As cited by domain-specific experts and specialists, there can perhaps be an advantage of the Su-57 over the F-35, which may explain why the Su-57 isn’t viewed as a stealth aircraft like the F-22 or F-35. This advantage is speed. Aviation experts argue that the Su-57’s form and construction were designed for pace. 

As per the official stats, the Su-57 can touch a top-flight speed of Mach 2.0. Its counterpart, the American F-35, peaks at Mach 1.6. So, unlike the F-35, which was designed with the primary aim of stealth, the Su-57’s design focused on agility and speed from the beginning. This might mean its shape and construction aren’t fully optimized to lower radar cross-section and infrared signatures. 

Su-57 and French next-gen fighter share surprising similarity
YouTube screenshot

Experts also observe that the Su-57’s design misses the “more angular and faceted designs” found in the American stealth fighters. This factor can increase its radar cross-section, not an ideal quality for a “stealth” fighter. Beyond this, the Su-57 possesses external weapons pylons and engine nozzles that can potentially amplify its radar signal when compared to the internal weapon bays and disguised engine exhausts seen in certain stealth aircraft designs like the F-35. 

Another design challenge with the Su-57 is the presence of canards – small wings positioned ahead of the primary wings. These additional components can enhance the jet’s maneuverability but might also hike up its radar cross-section, making it more detectable. This design decision is another reason experts question Su-57’s stealth attributes. 

The aircraft’s composition materials also have a significant impact on its stealth potential. Even though the Su-57 design includes radar-absorbing materials [RAM], the proficiency and degree of these materials aren’t fully revealed. The RAM’s use is crucial to reducing the aircraft’s radar footprint, and any pitfalls in this aspect could jeopardize the Su-57’s stealth prowess. 

Six Australian F-35s fly over Nevada in 'world's toughest dogfight'
Photo credit: RAAF / X

This brings us to a critical feature – the Su-57’s radar cross-section values. As per public information, they span from 0.1 to 0.5 square meters, which considering its competition, is pretty sizeable! 

The F-35’s radar cross-section accuracy is still under official wraps. However, independent research institutions and universities have conducted studies on this aspect. One such study indicates that the F-35’s RCS is similar to a metallic golf ball or about 0.0015 sqm, which is approximately 5 to 10 times larger than the F/A-22’s minimum frontal RCS.

The F-35’s RCS is deemed to be lower than the F-117’s and comparable to the B-2, which is just half of the older F-117’s RCS. From all other angles, the F-35 RCS is suggested to be higher than the F-22, but its frontal-end RCS is smaller. For context, the MiG-29’s RCS is measured at about 5 m2. 

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

It’s crucial to highlight that the Su-57 boasts a unique shape amongst all the fifth-generation stealth fighters. When we explore the hull design and form of the Chinese J-20, the Turkish KAAN, and the South Korean KF-21 Boramae, we see a marked resemblance to the F-22 Raptor. While not identical, their design similarities outweigh their differences. In contrast, no other fighter mirrors the Su-57’s aesthetics.

To sum it up, although the Su-57 does include certain stealth attributes, its structure, airframe design, positioning of the engine, utilization of materials, and the existence of canards might all raise questions about its comprehensive stealth features. These factors may lead to improved radar visibility when compared to other fifth-generation combat aircraft.


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