Kyiv says: Ukrainian UAV scores first strike on Russian Su-57

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Ukraine has reportedly downed a Su-57 PAK FA fighter jet in southern Russia, marking the first strike against Moscow’s latest stealth aircraft, as noted by AFP. Introduced into the Russian Air Force in December 2020, the Su-57 was developed to replace older fighters like the Su-27 and MiG-29. However, at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, only two Su-57s were operational. 

Photo credit: Moscow Times

Russia plans to have 22+ such fighters by the year’s end. Although officially priced at 2.2 billion rubles each, the actual cost is likely higher, with state subsidies for the manufacturer. 

“On June 8, 2024, a Su-57 multi-role fighter of the aggressor state was downed at Akhtubinsk Airport in Russia’s Astrakhan Region, 589 km from the contact line,” announced Ukraine’s military intelligence. They added, “This marks the first instance of a Su-57 being shot down in history.” 

Photo credit: Russian MoD

Ukraine frequently targets military and energy sites on Russian soil with drones, often striking hundreds of kilometers from the front line. According to Moscow’s Ministry of Defense, Russian air defenses intercepted three drones over the Astrakhan region on June 8.

The Su-57 is a fifth-generation fighter, designed by Russia as a counterpart to the US F-35. While it boasts a smaller radar profile compared to other Russian fighters, it still shows up more prominently than US stealth aircraft, bearing similarity to the F-18. 

With reports of the Su-57’s first defeat at the Akhtubinsk airport, one might wonder about the potential for drone strikes on its production facilities. Additionally, what’s the strategic rationale behind targeting the Su-57, beyond its value as a rare and prized Russian asset? 

Photo credit: Getty Images

This second question is perhaps easier to answer. According to the General Intelligence Directorate, Russian Su-57s are equipped with Kh-69 cruise missiles, which were used to destroy the Tripoli TPP in April 2024. Essentially, a single Su-57 can inflict as much damage to critical infrastructure as a Tu-95MS strategic bomber could. 

Thus, targeting this advanced aircraft holds a similar strategic value as taking out a strategic bomber, given its significant destructive capabilities. 

Delving into the manufacturing location of the Su-57, you’ll find it’s quite complex. This aircraft is assembled at a facility in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, located in Russia’s Far East, near Lake Baikal. This geography makes a drone attack challenging, given it’s about 8,000 kilometers from Ukraine’s border.

Photo credit: Naked Science

Interestingly, this highlights some “bottlenecks” within the Russian military industry. The same plant producing the Su-57 also manufactures the Su-35S, another flagship aircraft of the Russian arsenal. 

When the Su-57 production kicked off in 2020, instead of building new workshops, the Russians opted to increase the ramp equipment within existing spaces. They also aimed to speed up production by enhancing staff efficiency at the plant. 

Likely, Russia didn’t anticipate the urgent need to replenish aviation losses post-February 2022 due to actions by Ukrainian air defenses. Consequently, Moscow focused on ramping up the current production of the Su-35S, achieving a rate of seven aircraft in 2022 and ten in 2023. Meanwhile, Su-57 production continued at a slower pace, with only a few units being produced each year. 

Photo credit: Naked Science

However, the Defense Forces of Ukraine might eventually find a way to target the aircraft plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, despite its considerable distance of over 8,000 kilometers from Ukraine’s border, where these key Russian combat aircraft are produced.

The Su-57, also known by its NATO reporting name ‘Felon,’ is a fifth-generation multirole fighter aircraft developed by Russia’s Sukhoi Company. It is designed to perform a variety of missions, including air superiority and ground attack, while incorporating advanced stealth technology to reduce its radar cross-section. 

The Su-57 measures approximately 20.1 meters [66 feet] in length, with a wingspan of about 14.1 meters [46 feet] and a height of 4.6 meters [15 feet]. Its maximum takeoff weight is around 35,000 kilograms [77,162 pounds]. 

Photo credit: Dzen

Technically, the Su-57 is equipped with a composite airframe and advanced aerodynamics, which contribute to its high maneuverability and low observability. It features thrust-vectoring engines, which enhance its agility and allow it to perform complex aerial maneuvers. 

The propulsion system of the Su-57 consists of two Saturn Izdeliye 30 engines, which are designed to provide supercruise capability—allowing the aircraft to sustain supersonic flight without using afterburners. These engines are expected to offer improved fuel efficiency and higher thrust compared to their predecessors. 

The avionics suite of the Su-57 includes advanced radar systems, such as the N036 Byelka radar, which features an active electronically scanned array [AESA] for enhanced target detection and tracking capabilities. The aircraft also incorporates an infrared search and track [IRST] system for passive detection of enemy aircraft. 

Photo credit: Defense Express

The Su-57 is equipped with a variety of systems to enhance its combat effectiveness and survivability. These include electronic warfare [EW] systems, a comprehensive self-defense suite, and a data link for network-centric warfare capabilities. The aircraft’s cockpit is designed with a glass cockpit layout, featuring multifunctional displays and a helmet-mounted display [HMD] for improved situational awareness. 

In terms of armament, the Su-57 can carry a wide array of weapons, both internally and externally. Its internal weapons bays are designed to maintain stealth characteristics while housing air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and precision-guided munitions. The aircraft can also be armed with a 30mm GSh-30-1 cannon for close-range combat.

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