Su-57 set to replace Su-34 in Ukraine, some analysts predict

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Russia’s Su-57, a fifth-generation fighter jet, is taking center stage as Moscow’s pride and joy in aerial combat technology. Some even speculate that its capabilities may soon eclipse those of the now-aging Su-34. Recent incidents involving Ukrainian forces downing several Su-34s only fuel such discussions. 

Photo credit: Russian MoD

However, critics are questioning the possible shortcomings of Russia leveraging the Su-57, considering its limited fleet, in an extensive and calculated warfare against Ukraine. Reports from Russia show that the Su-57 is a stealth predator capable of identifying and engaging in air, surface, and ground combat using a variety of guided and unguided weaponry. 

Armed with potent Kh-59MK2 cruise missiles, the Sukhoi-manufactured marvel has allegedly made daring incursions into Ukrainian airspace, according to recent findings. Bolstering its formidable array of capabilities is its innovative powerplant, the Izdeliye 30 engine.

Su-57 instead of Su-34

Some analyses suggest, and existing evidence seems to support, that the Su 34 fails to stand up against Western air defenses. It is contended that the Su-34 is notably vulnerable and is easily pinpointed by the AN/MPQ-65 radar, a crucial part of the Patriot air defense system. On the other hand, the Su-57 can detect the presence of this radar system much before it is detected, thereby being able to predict the “result” of the conflict. 

“Once the Su-57 spots radar emissions, the coordinates of the radar are conveyed through a secure data link to Su-35S or Su-34s armed with Kh-31P anti-radiation missiles, who are operating at a safe distance from the battlefield,” stated military analysts and an Indian Air Force veteran, Vijainder K Thakur. 

Photo by Marina Lustseva

With the Su-57’s advanced radar detection abilities, Russia can destroy Ukraine’s AN/MPQ-65 radar with ease. The upgraded Patriot, equipped with PAC-3 interceptor missiles, might find itself in a tight spot when confronting these aircraft. “As a result, the AN/MPQ-65 will be annihilated long before the Patriot system can fire a PAC-3 interceptor missile at the Su-57,” Thakur explained.

It probably won’t happen

In a perplexing turn of events, Russia has shown notable hesitation to utilize the Su-57 widely in the conflict against Ukraine. This raises doubts about Russia’s faith in the stealth capabilities of this fifth-generation fighter aircraft, despite its potential to rival the U.S.’s Lockheed Martin-manufactured F-22 Raptor and F-35. 

Photo credit: Rostec

Retired Captain Johnson Chacko offers insight into this apparent reluctance, explaining why Russia’s battlefield lacks a significant presence of Su-57s, despite their advanced specifications. “The Su-57 is Russia’s most sophisticated fighter. Is it necessary to bring it into play here? Is the mission significant enough to risk the Su-57? Is it equivalent to using a hammer to squash a fly? Stealth doesn’t mean absolute invisibility to all radar systems across the full frequency spectrum and modes of operation,” says Chacko. 

On the other hand, Chacko argues that a full-scale deployment of these aircraft could backfire severely, becoming an irresistible “target barracks” for NATO. “The active deployment of the Su-57s would expose the system and its capabilities. This could serve the interests of NATO in future confrontations,” he further explains. This argument may shed light on Russia’s choice to avoid such a high-stakes gamble.

Russia keeps the Su-57

It appears that the goal is to maintain the global reputation of the Su-57. On March 6, 2024, Business Insider published a piece that referenced an intelligence report from the British Ministry of Defense. The report highlights some intriguing revelations. According to this report, Moscow’s armament consisted of only a few Su-57 units in 2020. 

Photo credit: TASS

As stated by a report from the Ministry of Defense in the early stages of 2023, “Russia is expected to prioritize the prevention of potential reputational damage from the Su-57’s flaws apparent in its battle against Ukraine, in addition to considering the implications of a reduction in export possibilities and potential breaches of its sensitive technology.” 

The report further states, “The potential loss of a Su-57 in Ukraine could lead to significant repercussions for Russia on two fronts.” Besides the probable capture of its sensitive aviation technology by NATO, Russia could face a major hit to its global defense equipment sales reputation. Such a development could lead to a significant dip in its export numbers.

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