Nobody is unfamiliar with the modern Su-57 Felon. It is a well-known Russian multi-role fighter and bomber with stealth and strike capabilities. It is also Russia’s top-tier 5th generation supersonic combat aircraft, boasting low visibility features and highly sophisticated intelligence gathering sensors located on its wings.
Since the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has escalated, it imposes a question: why is Russia not deploying its most advanced Su-57 in combat? Let’s look at the possible underlying reasons why Russia has not deployed its outstanding Su-57 stealth fighter over Ukraine.
An update in a Twitter post from the UK Ministry of Defense Intelligence or MOD on the 9th of January stated that Russia is being cautious with its stealth jets. The MOD mentioned that this reflects Russia’s ongoing conservative approach to using its Air Force in the conflict, despite claims by Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shwego in August that the Su-57 performed exceptionally well in combat. The Su-57 has not been seen over Ukrainian skies.
The UK Defense Ministry stated in its update that since June 2022, the Su-57 combat bombers have actually been used in attacks over Ukraine, but these were carried out from within Russia. The MOD reported that Russian Air Forces have likely been using the Felon Jets based at the Activinsk Air Base, which is located around 310 miles from the Ukrainian border, to launch long-range air-to-surface or air-to-air missiles in Ukraine.
The UK Ministry of Defense has confirmed the presence of five Su-57 Felon fighter jets at the Activinsk Air Base through commercial satellite images taken on the 25th of December. These images showed at least five Felons located at the Activinsk Air Base. According to the report, the Activinsk Air Base is the only known Felon base in Russia, and therefore it is likely that these aircraft have taken part in operations against Ukraine.
Following the alleged Ukrainian drone attack on Russia’s Angles Air Base in December, the Russian military has relocated its bombers to the country’s far east, as noted by Alexi Donolov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council. However, the relocation of Russian aircraft, according to the UK Defense Ministry on the 5th of January, would create difficulties for maintenance and reduce the limited flying hours available for the aging aircraft.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces has reported that Russia has lost 285 airplanes since the start of its full-scale war against Ukraine. The images also suggest that the jets are being used to launch long-range air-to-surface or air-to-air missiles against Ukrainian targets from safe Russian airspace. This confirms previous rumors that the Russian Aerospace Forces have deployed the Su-57 aircraft in June 2022, and Russia avoids flying them over the border where Ukrainian air defenses pose a risk.
Justin Bronk, an air power and technology expert from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank in London, also explained to Insider the reason behind Russia’s decision not to deploy the Su-57 over Ukraine. He said that Russia is wary of the potential consequences if the Su-57 were shot down.
The NATO allies would likely study the wreckage and be highly interested in some of the unique features of the aircraft, such as its innovative radar system. Bronk added that a crash over Ukraine would be a significant embarrassment for Russia, as it would reveal the lack of effectiveness of the stealth technology. For this reason, Russia is avoiding flying its state-of-the-art Su-57 stealth fighter over Ukraine, as any crash debris would reveal the aircraft’s confidential information.
This is concurred by the MOD suggestion that if a Felon were to be hit over Ukrainian territory, it could lead to the loss of valuable information, as well as harm the aircraft’s reputation. Moreover, losing a Su-57 in battle would further affect its export prospects. Therefore, despite Russia’s attempts to showcase its capabilities, the Su-57 has not been extensively utilized in the conflict.
The defense analyst Mr. Wilson, on the other hand, has another reason. He suggested that the deployment of the Su-57 jets is limited and primarily for experimental purposes and will not significantly impact the outcome of the conflict. He stated that the limited number of aircraft and their immaturity are factors contributing to this. According to Russian sources, the Su-57 stealth technology has yet to be detected by NATO radar. However, caution is likely to continue to restrict the use of these aircraft in combat, as they are still in the early stages of production, and the risk of some crucial components failing is real, with all the potential consequences. Additionally, Russia is facing difficulties in developing advanced engines and acquiring crucial technology, such as microprocessors and sensors, suggesting that there will not be a significant increase in the number of these weapons in the near future.
Experts have noted that if the stealth capabilities of the Su-57 are on par with American counterparts, it can operate undetected in Ukrainian airspace to neutralize enemy air defenses. However, Billy Flann, a former senior experimental test pilot for the F-35 Lightning II, has stated that the Su-57 is not yet equipped to withstand a high-threat surface-to-air missile environment. So it would not be deployed within range of any Ukrainian missiles. A single loss of a Su-57 to Ukrainian surface-to-air missile would greatly benefit Ukraine’s public image and cast doubts on the stealth capabilities of the Felon, resulting in the reluctance of Russia to use its Su-57s. One expert also noted that Russia’s cautious approach is not just limited to Ukrainian defenses but also due to concerns about NATO’s intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) abilities, which increase the risk to Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft fleet.
It is important to mention that the Su-57 is currently the most crucial aircraft for Russia and the basis for the future of its aviation. So what are the missions of Russia’s Su-57 in Ukraine? The Su-57 Felon made its debut in the air in January 2010. It is a fifth-generation fighter aircraft capable of taking out targets on land, water, and in the air. The Su-57 was created with the intention of having superiority and attack missions to engage any type of targets. It is Moscow’s first stealth aircraft with a low radar and infrared signal made of composite materials and having an aerodynamic design.
Although often touted as a strong contender to the US-made F-22 fighter jets, the Su-57 has faced challenges during its development phase. Experts have stated that the aircraft has yet to fully mature into an effective frontline weapon system, but it still holds potential as a stealth aircraft. The Su-57 was said to have been tested in actual combat in Syria in 2018, but its performance was not outstanding. Russia, however, claimed that the Su-57 was used with great success in the ongoing conflict in August 2022.
The Russian military leaders reported that the new weapons, such as the Su-57 Felon, performed well during the invasion. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shwiego claimed that the Felon was used brilliantly in the war during Russia’s invasion. However, there was no evidence that the aircraft had been used in Ukraine at the time until the satellite images revealed it later on. Shwego emphasized the effectiveness of the aircraft’s offensive weapons and its true protection against opponent air defenses.
Furthermore, in contrast to the defense analysis mentioned before, the Russian Ministry of Defense recently received a new batch of fifth-generation aircraft. As reported by Eurasian Times, the Su-57 fighter jets are being delivered in a series, with the Russian Air Force projected to receive 22 of these aircraft by the end of 2024 and 76 by 2028. The Russian defense industry is also engaged in a significant modernization effort aimed at boosting the production of these combat aircraft.
In conclusion, it is highly probable that Russia is placing priority on avoiding the negative impact on its reputation, potential reduction in export opportunities, and compromise of sensitive technology that would result from the loss of a Su-57 Felon over Ukraine. This reflects Russia’s ongoing cautious approach in using its Air Force in the war. But what do you think might be the actual reason? I leave it up to you. That’s all for today.