Su-57 made a strategic move near Luhansk for strike missions

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News is circulating that the Russian Air Force may have used an advanced ‘fifth-generation’ Su-57 fighter jet for assignments in the controversial Luhansk region of Ukraine. The details are still unclear, but it seems possible that this jet could have entered Ukrainian airspace during the operation. 

Photo credit: UAC

Some points about the mission are not clear yet. For example, there’s a mix-up about the type of Kh-59MK2 cruise missiles that were reportedly used. And here’s the strange part: a Su-57 would not typically need to cross into Ukraine’s airspace to hit targets in Luhansk. That’s because the Kh-59MK2 can reach those targets even from deep within Russia’s borders. 

Despite the uncertainty, we do know there was some action in the region in early February. Ukrainian sources have confirmed strikes involving Kh-59MK2 on the 7th and 8th. This missile is effective against small, fortified objectives, proven by its prior successful use in Syria. 

Here’s an interesting fact: even though the Kh-59MK2 can hit targets up to 300km away, it is small enough to fit inside the Su-57’s internal weapon bays. This means that the plane can keep a low radar profile. More interestingly, no other ‘fifth-generation’ fighter jet is known to carry this type of missile internally.

Kh-59MK2 in Syria

Since its initial test runs in Syria in 2018, the Kh-59MK2 missile has shown considerable growth. This missile is mainly used by the Su-57 for air-to-ground fights, and it’s great at destroying robust and small targets at a significant distance – up to 300km. 

Photo credit: UAC

This missile isn’t to be taken lightly. With a 320kg penetrating warhead, it carries a serious punch. The Kh-59MK2 is also flexible – it can be loaded with a smaller scattering warhead for a broader impact or outfitted with an even stronger penetrator or a cluster bomb carrier. 

Despite its subsonic speed, Kh-59MK2 isn’t any less powerful. With an extensive operational range and the ability to switch targets mid-flight, this missile is highly adaptable. Nowadays, you might hear it referred to as the ‘Kh-69’, a name that’s been gaining traction. This could allude to a version with changes to the warhead or guidance system, or a version made for export, as recently seen at the Dubai Airshow. 

In other news, Russia’s unique Su-57 regiment has been armed with a new, longer-range cruise missile derived from the Kh-101/102 model used by strategic bombers. In addition, a large supply of the Drel glide bomb, made for the fighter, is set to start in 2025.

Photo credit: Rostec

22 Su-57 fighters

Two battalions have now come together to form a single regiment, featuring the Su-57 fighters. By the close of 2023, we saw the addition of 22 of these impressive planes, marking a big jump from only six we had in 2022. 

Looking forward to 2024, we expect 20 more of these fantastic aircraft to come. This increase will push the Su-57’s production beyond any other Russian fighter class and most around the world. At present, only the F-35 from America and China’s J-10C, J-16, and J-20 are ahead.

New slide bomb

Even though the Su-57 aircraft has a pretty high cost at about $35 million each [changes based on rouble exchange rates], it’s still more affordable than the only other two fifth-generation fighter jets currently being made – the Chinese J-20, and the somewhat smaller single-engine F-35, which costs less than half. 

Initially, the Russian Air Force had big goals for the Su-57. They saw it leading their tactical operations by the middle of the 2020s. They planned to have over 200 of these aircraft ready for action by 2025. But, delays in making the Su-57 mean that now we expect to see the highest production levels in 2024, not 2018 as was originally planned. 

Something else to look forward to in 2024 is the new type of glide bomb made specifically for the Su-57, the PBK-500U Drel. This extra feature means the aircraft might be sent further into Ukrainian airspace to attack targets at closer range, which suggests it could be tested in combat.

Photo by Vitaly Kuzmin

What is the Russian Su-57?

Let’s talk about the Su-57, formally known as the Sukhoi Su-57. This cutting-edge plane is from Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau. It’s a versatile fifth-generation fighter jet that’s designed for multiple roles, paving the way for the future of military flight. The Su-57 is big, really big. Measuring around 20.1 meters long with a wingspan of nearly 14 meters and a height nearing 5 meters, it’s a sight you can’t miss. It’s got an incredible wing area of 78.8 square meters. 

When it comes to technology, the Su-57 is top-notch. In its arsenal, you’ll find the Sh121 multifunctional integrated radio electronic system [MIRES] and the 101KS Atoll infrared search and track [IRST] system. It has a radar that’s able to detect air, ground, and naval targets. 

In terms of weapons, the Su-57 is formidable. It can carry a variety of missiles, from air-to-air and air-to-ground to anti-ship missiles, secured in its internal weapon bays. If that’s not enough, it can also carry additional weapons on its external pylons. The Su-57 is fast, very fast. Able to reach a top speed of around Mach 2 at altitude, or roughly 2,140 kilometers per hour, it’s agile and purposeful. 

But this jet’s range really impresses. With internal fuel only, it can fly about 3,500 kilometers. If longer range is required, it can carry external fuel tanks for more distance without needing to refuel. Now, that’s impressive!

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