Russia’s lone Su-57 squadron unleashes six strikes in a single month

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The Su-57 fifth-generation fighters operated by the Russian Air Force’s only regiment have ramped up missions in Ukraine. Between April 15 and May 15, Ukrainian sources noted more than six cruise missile strikes. 

Photo credit: Dzen

This development came after a late February report claimed one of these aircraft targeted Ukrainian positions in Luhansk. The Kh-59MK2, a radar-evading cruise missile, is said to be the weapon of choice for these strikes. The missile class is designed primarily for air-to-ground combat and excels at neutralizing small, hardened targets over distances of nearly 300 kilometers. It is equipped with a 320-kilogram penetrating warhead, though a smaller pellet warhead can be used to affect targets across a wider area.  

This new generation of missiles features short fins, allowing them to be carried within the  aircraft’s  internal weapons bays. Reports suggest that Su-57s are typically escorted by Su-35 fighters on strike missions, although this has yet to be officially confirmed.

Kh-59MK2

The Kh-59MK2 missile, a variant of the Kh-59 family, is an air-launched cruise missile developed by Russia. One of the key technologies it employs is its guidance system, which combines inertial navigation with satellite navigation [GLONASS] to achieve high accuracy over long distances. 

Another significant technology in the Kh-59MK2 is its terrain-following capability. This feature allows the missile to fly at low altitudes, following the contours of the terrain to avoid radar detection and interception. The missile is also equipped with an advanced electro-optical seeker in its terminal phase. This seeker uses infrared and television imaging to identify and lock onto the target with high precision. 

Stealth technology is another critical aspect of the Kh-59MK2. The missile’s design incorporates radar-absorbing materials and a low radar cross-section to minimize its detectability by enemy radar systems. The propulsion system of the Kh-59MK2 consists of a solid-fuel booster and a turbofan engine. The solid-fuel booster is used during the initial launch phase to accelerate the missile to cruising speed, after which the turbofan engine takes over for sustained flight.

Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin

22 Su-57s

Currently, Russia has twenty-two Su-57s in service, forming a regiment that’s not at full strength yet. In 2023, twelve units were delivered, up from six in 2022. Looking ahead to 2024, the delivery numbers are expected to exceed 20 airframes. By 2027, Russia aims to have three full regiments, each consisting of 24 aircraft. 

This ramp-up in production makes the Su-57’s scale by far the largest for any Russian fighter class. However, it still trails behind the Chinese J-20, which has over 100 units, and the American F-35, clocking in at over 130. Since the Su-57’s involvement in the Russian-Ukrainian War came to light in March 2022, we’ve seen various reports on its different roles. 

Photo credit: Getty Images

Initially, the Su-57 was reported to be conducting strike and air defense suppression missions. The talk of Su-57s being used for air-to-air combat gained traction with a report from the British Defense Ministry in January 2023. According to the report, these fighters have been “launching long-range air-to-surface or air-to-air missiles into Ukraine” and have been involved in operations “since at least June 2022.”

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