The Sukhoi Su-57 Felon, a fifth-generation fighter jet from the Russian Federation, possesses a wide range of capabilities, including the ability to deploy mini-drones, according to an unnamed source within the Russian industrial complex cited by Overclockers, a Russian news outlet.
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These specially designed drones can be accommodated either within the aircraft’s fuselage or mounted externally. They can serve multiple purposes, like reconnaissance, launching strikes, and electronic warfare. Furthermore, the Su-57 has the capability to operate multiple attack drones simultaneously during combat operations.
As the insider noted, “The Su-57 is equipped with various types of mini-UAVs. It can carry these on an external fitting or within its internal fuselage compartment and deploy them in flight. The fighter can launch and control a group of these drones in one go.”
The addition of mini-drones is projected to greatly enhance the Su-57’s efficacy in accomplishing combat missions. The work to develop the necessary onboard equipment and software to facilitate interactive drone operation began in 2021, added the source.
It’s noteworthy that even though the Su-57 is already operational, there are ongoing efforts to constantly modernize and enhance it. Development is underway for new weaponry, communication systems, and other technologies. The ongoing flight tests of the stage-two engine aircraft mark a significant development in this process.
The Su-57 distinguishes itself as a versatile fighter jet capable of eliminating targets in air, on land, or in water, as well as disrupting enemy control systems. It can operate effectively either independently or within the strategy of a “single field”.
The changes started in April
Back in April, speculation was rife among Russian experts that the UAC was gearing up the Su-57 to interface with drones. It was then that Rostec disclosed that the Sukhoi Su-57 would employ AI-generated encryption for data transfers, offering a defense against interference.
On April 21, Rostec publicized that they, in unison with AI, had crafted a novel communication system for fifth and subsequent-generation combat aircraft. The system was developed by the Russian firm Ruselectronics, a division of the Rostec conglomerate. With this new AI-backed communication, data encoding and transfer between diverse platforms, either aerial or terrestrial, is guaranteed.
The AI-supported technology ensures commendable noise resistance thanks to its multitasking channels. This is the “envelope” of the technology, featuring multiple interleaved symbols, time synchronization in the course of the transfer, as well as the simultaneous transmission of data in all directions, be it air-to-ground or air-to-air. It also boosts the range of transmitted data.
Not just mini-drones
Launching and coordinating a flock of miniature drones hinges on a core assumption. In May, Polish military observers from Defense24 detected a novel, AI-based communication system. They postulated that the Su-57 Felon, a stealth fighter jet, could simultaneously deploy and control up to four S-70 Okhotnik stealth attack drones.
The Su-57 possesses the capability to command a radius of approximately 1,500 km. This suggests that the Felon can infiltrate deep into territories dominated by hostile aviation or air defense systems. Meanwhile, the Su-57 would be securely stationed well outside the field of real combat operations.
The Russian Defense Ministry has stated that the Su-57 fighter jet has already participated in what it calls a ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine – a term Moscow employs to discuss the Russian invasion and ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The Kremlin has maintained that the Su-57 has struck targets beyond visual range. British intelligence echoed this data, confirming the stationing of five fighter jets in a Russian area located near the Ukrainian border.
The Su-57 already flies a drone
Could the Su-57’s remote participation and performance in conflict be accelerating the Russian company Poliet’s advancement of the fighter’s new communication system? The chatter out of Moscow about such developments predates the war, but they’ve been cagey with progress reports. Rewind to three years ago, and there was speculation that the Su-57 might receive aerial assistance from a single drone. Now, unexpected rumors hint at not just one, but a team of four.
Truth be told, the Su-57 and S-70 have already showcased their collaborative capabilities. Their joint flight was executed in October 2019. According to reports from Moscow, the Su-57 directed the flight operations of the S-70. Russian media sources subsequently suggested that, in future operations, the Su-57 could potentially coordinate between two and four of these drones.
With the potential to manage four S-70 UCAVs, the Su-57 would outperform both the NGAD and F-35, American fighters reportedly capable of controlling up to two drones each. This is a significant leap in aerial operations.
As a noteworthy side note, BulgarianMilitary.com draws attention to similar developments in China. To illustrate, in 2022, Beijing launched a two-seater J-20 second-generation stealth fighter flanked by three GJ-11 combat drones. The flight was well-documented by photographers and cinematographers alike, adding the GJ-11 to the rank of drones equivalent to Russia’s S-70.
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