RuAF stealth fighter targets vital infrastructure in Ukraine

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Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson, Major Ilya Yevlash, informed Ukrainian media that the Russian Aerospace Forces [VKS or RuAF] are employing their Su-57 stealth fighters for missile strikes on Ukraine’s infrastructure. According to Yevlash, Moscow is maintaining a safe distance with the Sukhoi Su-57 Felon from the frontline, out of fear of it being targeted by air defenses. 

Photo credit: Dzen

Major Yevlash shared his insights on April 26, a day after the missile attack on Ukrainian infrastructure by Russia. The Kh-69 stealth air-to-surface missile was reportedly one of the munitions deployed during the attack. “Russians have previously utilized the Su-57, yet they aim to keep it distant, susceptible as it is to our air defenses. This substantial investment is original and rather exclusive to them, akin to a precious ‘rattle’ [a reference to a child’s toy – ed.], which they safeguard,” he stated. 

The Ukrainian officer also proposed that the Kh-69 was likely used during the assault on April 11. In a single day, essential Ukrainian infrastructure in four regions of the country: Kharkiv, Zaporozhye, Lviv, and Kyiv, were assaulted. There have been reports of the Russians successfully hitting data transfer centers. On April 11, Ukrainian media disclosed that several kinds of missiles, including the Kh-69 and Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, were deployed in the attack.

Photo credit: Defense Express

In March, a debate sparked among Russian military experts when the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense announced that it successfully shot down ten Su-34 fighter-bombers in a matter of days. This incident led to speculation that the Russian command might shift the role of the Su-34 to the Su-57. 

Despite this, critics expressed concerns over the potential drawbacks of Russia deploying the Su-57, considering its limited fleet, in an expansive, thought-out war against Ukraine. Reports originating from Russia imply that the Su-57 is a nimble stealth fighter that can identify and engage in air, surface, and ground combat using a diverse blend of both guided and unguided weaponry. 

This is not the first time Major Evlash has made statements about the Su-57’s involvement in combat operations. As early as last year, British Ministry of Defense intelligence suggested that the RuAF was employing its stealth fighter for airstrikes on Ukraine, albeit from a distance.

Shortly thereafter, the Russian Federation’s Minister of Defense stated during an interview with local media, “The Su-57 has demonstrated impressive outcomes during its deployment in Syria and the military operations in Ukraine.” 

All these assumptions, including those made by the Ukrainian officer, hinge on the type of cruise missile used. The Kh-69 missile, with its compact dimensions, fits snugly not under the wings of the Su-57, but inside the aircraft’s internal ammunition compartment. This allows the fighter to maintain a low radar profile while preserving its stealth characteristics. 

Consider the Russian attack on April 11, when the Trypilska TPP was obliterated on the outskirts of Kyiv. This incident could shed light on many unclear aspects of the Su-57. For instance, the Ukrainian military alleges that one of the missiles deployed in this attack was the Kh-69. However, according to their expert appraisal, the missile launch site and its ultimate destination were approximately 400 km apart. 

Photo by Giovanni Colla/Daniele Faccioli

Thus, considering that the cruise speed of the Su-57 could extend the range of this missile, it’s inferred that Russian stealth was involved. However, the Kh-69 is the stealthy variant of the Kh-59MK2. Both of these missiles can not only be carried and fired by the Su-57 but also by other Russian fighters, namely: Su-34, Su-35, MiG-31, and Su-30MK. Except for the Su-34, all the named aircraft are capable of extending the range of the Kh-69, or correspondingly, the Kh-59MK2, to varying extents. 

Aside from the assertions made by Britain, Russia, and Ukraine, there’s a dearth of additional evidence supporting the deployment of the Su-57 in Ukraine. The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, for instance, publishes a brief interview daily with a pilot from a helicopter, fighter, or bomber crew sharing updates on operational progress over Ukraine and information about the targets hit. As of now, there’s no recorded interview with any pilot who has piloted the Su-57 over Ukraine. Naturally, the absence of a downed Su-57 or of an interview with a Su-57 pilot doesn’t necessarily affirm that Russia hasn’t deployed the aircraft. It’s a commonly accepted notion that details on expensive armaments are kept confidential for security reasons.

The Su-57 Felon is a fifth-generation, multi-role, single-seat, twin-engine jet fighter developed by Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau. It is the first Russian aircraft in military service to utilize stealth technology. 

Photo credit: Sukhoi

The dimensions of the Su-57 are quite extensive, with a length of 19.8 meters, a wingspan of 13.95 meters, and a height of 4.74 meters. The wing area of approximately 78.8 square meters endows the aircraft with superior lift and maneuverability. 

The Su-57 is renowned for its advanced avionics and weaponry. It features a glass cockpit and sophisticated avionics systems, including the Sh121 multifunctional integrated radio electronic system [MIRES] and the 101KS Atoll electro-optical system. 

The aircraft is powered by two Saturn AL-41F1 turbofan engines, each capable of generating up to 147 kN of thrust. This propulsion allows the Su-57 to reach an impressive maximum speed of Mach 2 at altitude, and Mach 1.6 at lower levels.

Photo credit: Rosoboronexport

The Su-57 is equipped with a diverse array of missiles and bombs. These include K-77M radar-guided long-range air-to-air missiles, Kh-35UE tactical cruise missiles, and KAB-250/KAB-500 precision-guided bombs. For close combat situations, it carries an internal 30mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-1 autocannon. 

With its striking operational range, the Su-57 boasts a combat radius of approximately 1500 kilometers on internal fuel alone. This range can be further expanded with the use of drop tanks or air refueling. 

One notable key design feature of the Su-57 is its stealth characteristics. Thanks to its specific shape and the incorporation of radar-absorbent materials, it maintains a significantly reduced radar cross-section. The craft also features internal weapons bays, an aspect that helps further diminish its radar signature. Additionally, the Su-57 has been meticulously designed to minimize its infrared signature.

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