Moscow sent two of its new Su-57 fighter jets to Syria. The Su-57 flew into Khmeimim air base, projecting Russian air power in the region.
Despite the growing evidence that the Su-57 is indeed in Syria, Russian officials have yet to either publicly announce the deployment or issue a formal denial. The country’s state media both appear to be curiously shying away from making any definitive statements on the matter, as well. However, the Sputniknews and social media broadcasted a video showing two new generation stealth Su-57 are apparently landing at Khmeimim air base.
So why did the Kremlin decide to send best of its fighter jet to Syria when there is a growing threat of drone and mortar attack, no direct aerial threat from the rebels or the ISIS? Just a month ago, a rebel artillery attack destroyed four Su-24 strike aircraft, two Su-35 multi-role fighters, and an A-50U airborne early warning aircraft on the ground at Khmeimim. Losing one of the most advanced fighters in the world to a $1,000 mortar would be very embarrassing to the Moscow.
The deployment is a chance to test the fighter jet in real-world conditions, but Russia risks losing the aircraft to guerrilla warfare—particularly drone attacks. The Russian already showcased their long-range missile strike capability using Kalibr missiles fired from Corvettes and Submarines.
Russia sent Su-57 is the latest Flanker fighter jet derivatives, as well as the Su-35 and Su-34, and the Tu-95MS Bear and Tu-160M Blackjack strategic bombers on long endurance strike missions. It has also employed a variety of other specialised aircraft, including the A-50U airborne early warning plane and its new Tu-214R spy planes. The Russian also used Su-24 as the workhorse of the Syrian conflict.
On the ground, there are S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, ground-based cruise missiles, and various electronic warfare systems, among other assets Russia has had few chances to use under actual operational conditions. The Russian Navy’s lone aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, even made a brief, if embarrassingly deployment to support operations in Syria.
A fifth-gen fighters typically combine stealth, large, powerful engines that allow them to cruise above the speed of sound, networking capability, and advanced avionics and radar. Su-57 is yet achieved many features such as supercruise capability.
The Su-57 first flew in 2010 and had experienced considerable trouble during its development period. Things got so bad that the Indian Air Force, a frequent buyer of Russian military hardware and partner in the program, wants to bail on the project. Even now, eight years later, only ten prototypes are believed to be in operation. However, the prototype Su-57 stationed at Khmeimim air base already have the proven electronics, AESA radar and EC suits capable of engaging in air-to-air combat.
American F-22 Raptors have proved decisive in at least one encounter: in late 2017, an F-22 Raptor launched anti-missile chaff and flares near two Russian Su-25 ground attack jets that had intruded on American-controlled airspace. The Russian Air Force scrambled a Su-35 fighter in response. The Su-35 is a highly effective aircraft but lacks stealth and is not a fifth-generation fighter. Raptors and Su-57s could soon fly the same airspace and be involved in the same incidents.
Despite the Su-57’s showing in Syria, don’t expect to see large numbers of the jets any time soon. Russia has placed orders for just twelve production aircraft, in part because of their high cost but also because a new engine developed for the aircraft, the Saturn izdeliye 30, is not ready. The dozen production aircraft, set to be delivered next year, will fly with older, less powerful Saturn AL-41F engines.
However, despite all the risks associated with the deployment of the aircraft in Syria, one crucial benefits Kremlin wish to achieve is that the marketing of Russian fighter jet in the MiddleEast and SouthEast Asia.
The Russian manufacture, Almaz-Antey already scored two victories over Western long-range surface-to-air missile by securing sales of S-400 surface-to-air missile to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Qatar and Iraqi governments are negotiating a deal with Moscow to supply S-400 surface-to-air missile to Qatar and Iraq respectively. The Moscow offered the UAE latest 4.5 generation Su-35 fighter jet.
As of now, Sukhoi secured a deal with the Hindustan Aeronautical Complex (HAL) of India to participate in a development contract with HAL to transfer some of the technology and produce an Indian variant of Su-57 fighter jet. The sending of two Su-57 to Syria may be a risky venture but the well-planned move by Moscow to attract a potential buyer of a fighter jet.
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