Russian Su-57 stockpile arsenal and speculative Kh-69 equation

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Initially, the trepidation among Ukrainians due to the launch of a Russian Su-57, loaded with Kh-69 missiles, was mostly limited to a niche audience of observers. However, this anxiety has now taken a more formal shape. 

Photo credit: Russian MoD

For instance, the military news outlet ArmiyaInform recently relayed a statement from Air Force spokesperson Major Ilya Yevlash about the protocol for declaring an air raid warning due to the launch of a Su-57 type aircraft. Yevlash indicated that the alert is disseminated to the regions predicted to fall within the firing range. This information is gathered from a variety of sources, particularly from allied nations. 

In this context, it may seem as if the Russian Air Force has only recently deployed Su-57 aircraft in the conflict with Ukraine. However, that’s not the actual scenario.

The Su-57 has been involved since 2022

Let’s start with the reports from Ukrainian sources. As early as April 2022, there were accounts of Russia using Su-57 aircraft to launch strikes in Ukraine. The targets? The Kirovohrad region and port infrastructure in the Odesa region. At that point, these planes had been firing Kh-59 missiles without trespassing into Ukrainian airspace. 

According to a summary from the British Ministry of Defense published in January 2023, Russia commenced its use of Su-57 in the ongoing war against Ukraine in June 2022. Deployed to strike ground targets and launch ‘air-to-air’ missiles, these aircraft significantly enhanced Russia’s combat capabilities. 

Photo by Artyom Anikeev

However, it’s noteworthy that the report didn’t specify the frequency of the use of these aircraft. What was confirmed is that at least five Su-57 aircraft are stationed at the 929th test center of the Russian Ministry of Defense in Akhtubinsk.

One Su-57 carries four Kh-69 missiles

The debate continues to rage over the exact number of Su-57 aircraft that are currently in active service within the Russian Air Force. The provided information tends to be inconsistent and conflicting, largely thanks to the opacity of Russian disclosures. As an example of these contradictions, Ukraine asserts that only 10 operational aircraft exist. 

Photo credit: Defense Express

In contrast, there are Western sources that beg to differ, positing a figure closer to 22 operational units. Yet, there are also credible entities, such as the IISS, that appear to side with the Ukrainians, concurring with their ten-unit estimate. This uncertainty stems from Russia’s oblique announcements concerning each new delivery of aircraft, where specific numbers are typically glossed over. 

Drilling down into the technical capabilities, there seems to be consensus on one aspect; the Su-57 can predominantly carry up to four Kh-69 missiles. This is based on the understanding that these missiles will be accommodated within the aircraft’s integral compartment.

Why are the concerns there?

Recently, an increasing interest has been noted from Ukraine regarding Russia’s Su-57. This surge in curiosity doesn’t spring from a rising number of these aircraft in Russia’s arsenal or the number of Kh-69 missiles that Russians claim can be housed within this supposedly fifth-generation launcher. 

The spike in interest is attributed to the devastating destruction of the Trypilska TPP near Kyiv. According to Ukrainian sources, the Kh-69 missile played a pivotal role in this attack. Moreover, these same sources estimate that the missile was launched from an impressive distance of 400 km – a disquieting revelation for Ukrainian air defenses, who had previously presumed a maximum range of 300 km for this weapon. 

An additional 100 km range implies that the Su-57 wouldn’t need to violate Ukrainian territory or approach the active conflict lines. After its launch, the aircraft seemingly executed a strategic ‘turn’, setting course back towards the safety of Russian Federation airspace.

Photo by Giovanni Colla/Daniele Faccioli

The problems of Ukrainian air defense

Let’s consider Ukraine, which has seen a significant degrading of its air defenses, primarily due to supply shortfalls and a lack of military aid, predominantly from the U.S. The deployment of frontline defense systems such as the Patriot, IRIS-T, or SAMP/T has turned into a considerable challenge for Ukraine. This is due to the simple fact that these systems can be easily identified and taken down by the Russian military. 

In such a predicament, Russia’s Su-57 finds an opportunity to operate with increased security along the periphery of the conflict line. Some reports even suggest that this very scenario may have played a role in the recent downfall of the Trypilska TPP. Interestingly, elementary physics suggests that a missile’s range can be significantly extended when launched from a fast-moving aerial platform. 

Photo credit: Sukhoi

If we are to believe Russian statistics, the Su-57 boasts a maximum speed of Mach 2.0 and a supercruise speed of Mach 1.3. Given these speeds, it seems plausible, especially if the Mach 2.0 limit is reached, that the range of the Kh-69 missiles could potentially extend to a staggering 400 km. With this information at hand, it’s unsurprising that Ukrainian experts might harbor serious concerns about the operational impact of the Su-57, considering its capacity to carry up to four Kh-69 missiles.

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