Su-57 matches F-18 radar cross section, F-22 beats it by 5000 times

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As we move into the third year of the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war, the Russian stranglehold over Ukrainian airspace appears to be a potential weakness. Experts suggest that Russia is heavily reliant on the Su-57 aircraft, but the production rate is not meeting the Kremlin’s expectations. 

Photo credit: Russian MoD

Western analysts readily acknowledge the immense potential of the Su-57, with some even assigning it fifth-generation fighter status. However, they also highlight that this ‘immense potential’ is being hampered by production issues and technical problems. While the Su-57s have advanced capabilities and could enhance Russian air superiority, their deployment remains limited due to these setbacks. 

The difficulties faced by the Su-57 hint at broader challenges within Russian military operations. Russia’s inability to significantly expand its territory, particularly its failure to assert dominance over Ukraine’s airspace, highlights the vulnerabilities in the Russian Air Force.


According to Alex Hollings, a renowned figure in the field, the challenges initially faced by the Su-57 are similar to those experienced by any fighter jet, including the F-35 and F-22. “Even completed aircraft often struggle to make a strong initial impression,” Hollings notes. 

However, unlike the Su-57, the F-22 and F-35 have taken lessons from their early days and continually evolved. As Hollings explains, “Online discussions about the Radar Cross Section [RCS] often stir debate, and one should approach them with caution. Expert analysis suggests that the RCS of the Su-57 is around 0.5 square meters, which, unfortunately, does not quite hit the mark. Interestingly, the non-stealth 4th generation F/A-18 Super Hornet also possesses a similar RCS when it’s unarmed. In contrast, the RCS of the F-22 Raptor is five times smaller than that of the Su-57,” Hollings elucidates.

Photo credit: Pixabay

The RCS of the three aircraft

Understanding the radar cross-section [RCS] of an aircraft is critical for assessing how easily it can be detected on radar. You see, the larger the RCS, the more visible an aircraft becomes. 

Consider, for instance, the Su-57, a stealth fighter that is a product of Russian engineering. While the exact numbers remain confidential, industry sources estimate that the RCS falls somewhere between 0.1 and 0.5 to 1 square meters. This impressive stealth characteristic is attributed to the ingenious combination of its aerodynamic design, the use of radar-absorbent materials, and the integration of stealth-oriented technologies. 

On the other hand, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, an American multirole fighter, exhibits a contrasting design philosophy. Its RCS, reported to be around 0.8 to 1 square meter, is significantly larger than that of the Su-57. To minimize the RCS, the Super Hornet’s design utilizes edge alignments in conjunction with radar-absorbent materials. 

Photo credit: Meta-defence

Lastly, we have the F-22 Raptor — America’s stealth fighter, renowned for its extraordinarily low RCS. Though the specific figure remains highly classified, it’s widely recognized to be less than 0.0001 square meters. Attaining this benchmark in stealth technology required a harmonious blend of a stealth-friendly design, meticulous use of radar-absorbent materials, and other cutting-edge stealth technologies.

Sensors too

According to Hollings, stealth issues are not the only concerns regarding the Su-57. Problems also pertain to the delays in Russia’s 5th-generation engine program. As a result, the fleet uses the same AL-41F1 engine, a non-stealth but highly efficient model, as is used in the Su-35S

Photo credit: Pixabay

The Rand Corporation has conducted a review of the aircraft’s superior 360-degree sensor suite. The review suggests that the system is still a work in progress, possibly due to the international sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of its 2014 invasion of Ukraine. These factors, along with engine efficiency, are critical for identifying an aircraft as a fifth-generation stealth fighter.

Su-57 is capable of Ukraine war

However, it is essential to acknowledge the Su-57’s combat effectiveness, according to renowned defense authority Christian Orr. The challenges faced by the Su-57 deserve serious consideration rather than dismissal, especially by F-22 or F-35 pilots, and notably those in control of 4th-generation fighter aircraft, as explained by Christian Orr. 

Photo by Artyom Anikeev

Indeed, it’s undeniable that the Su-57 holds a premier status as a high-tech fighter, equipped with 360-degree thrust vector control that supports an impressive range of agility. The speed figures for the Su-57 are indeed respectable, hitting peak speeds close to Mach 2. 

Despite its inherent shortcomings, the Su-57 carries the promising potential to strengthen Russia’s strategic plan in Ukraine’s airspace, offering a positive aspect should Russia skillfully introduce it into combat scenarios.

How does the Su-57 outperform the F-22?

Photo credit: Wikipedia

It’s worth mentioning that the Su-57 has specific areas where it notably surpasses the F-22. It isn’t the stealth technology or 360-degree sensors where the Su-57 stands out, but rather its capability to adapt to situations like the conflict in Ukraine. This flexibility provides the Su-57 with a unique edge in military operations, setting it apart from its counterpart, the F-22. 

An impressive advantage that distinguishes the Su-57 from other fighters of the same generation is its compatibility with the R-37M missile. This accessory boasts an impressive strike range of 400 km, doubling the reach of the F-22, F-35, or even the J-20. This compatibility gifts the Su-57 with a strategic advantage, enabling it to neutralize threats from a safer distance. 

Who could ignore the R-37M missile’s impressive Mach 6 speed and its substantial 61 kg payload? These features outmatch those of China’s PL-15 or America’s AIM-120D, clearly demonstrating the R-37M’s superiority. However, its larger size and weight do come with one drawback – each fighter can only carry four of this missile type.


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