In a hypothetical war, If F-35 face-off with Su-57, who would win?

Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II (Photo Courtesy Lockheed Martin)

How do you compare the capability of a blind man (Su-57) with a man with a perfect vision (F-35)? Still, you will find the internet trolls who are dreaming that one day, maybe one day Russian Su-57 may be on par with the American F-35 or even beat it in a war. We have seen over and over in operation desert storms and Operation Iraqi Freedom, what is meant by air superiority, PERIOD.

For those who are dreaming that Su-57 beats F-35, this article is for them. Hypothetically, what would look like a war game between the Russian Su-57 vs American F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter?

The Underbelly of Su-57 is the identity of Su-35.

Anyone who thinks the Russian Su-57 would win, falls into one of four distinct categories: first, he/she could be a reporter of Russian state-run media Sputnik news, second, he/she is operating an internet bot sponsored by dictator Vladimir Putin; third, he/she could be a person who is very poorly informed (most likely either reliant on hopelessly dated information, or he may be simply ignorant); fourth, he/she could be a person who loves to hate the west because he/she suffers from inferiority complexity syndrome.

Just because you edit Wikipedia, the notion that you can win a war. The reality is different and facts hit hard than you think.

Exposed Engines of Su-57. Detectable by IR sensors.

There is simply no comparison between a stealthy fighter F-35 and a non-stealthy fighter Su-57. The stealth feature of Su-57’s is questionable from the day one it debuted. The Su-57 flew with the same engines and electronics of Su-35 until its development was cancelled.

Let’s move on and think what Su-57 can fight against F-35. Let’s assume (ASSUME) the Su-57 is a perfectly capable plane, it just has no means to detect an F-35 before an F-35 detects (and subsequently kills or evades) it. It’s a fact, the F-35 can detect the Su-57 well within its missile’s guaranteed kill range while remaining undetectable by the Russian plane. Worthwhile to mention here that Su-57 has a frontal RCS of 5 sqm and a rear RCS of 15 sqm which falls under the category of fourth-gen fighter jet. This is why Russian mounted a low-cost radar at the tail end of the aircraft is to detect whether the aircraft is being pursued by another aircraft because Su-57 cannot hide its signature from the rear end.

The Su-57 has great manoeuvrability, its best feature, does not solve that problem. The detection ranges of the Su-57’s IRST pod is limited to  45KM, the range and kill radius of US missiles is just as certain to expand. In fact, once LREW (the AMRAAM replacement missile) comes online, there will be even less hope for the Su-57 and there already isn’t any.

The LREW is a long-range ramjet missile with an AESA radar that the Air Force has been working on for a few years. It is basically a combination between the British meteor missile’s ramjet, which provides a much enhanced guaranteed no escape zone since it can be throttled up as it gets closer to the target and an AESA seeker which the Japanese have already deployed on one of their new missiles. In other words, it is a combination of two mature technologies. The NATO and the US will soon have a very long range (Mach 4+) missile, that is practically impossible to spoof, with vastly improved terminal performance compared to the already superb AMRAAM.

The only real air to air deficit for the F-35 is total missile carriage capacity; even that is being remedied. the internal missile capacity of the F-35 is allegedly getting enhanced to six AMRAAMs during the block 4 upgrades from its current capacity of 4. If that still isn’t sufficient, there is also another new class of missile, called the SACM which may jump the internal carriage to 12. SACM is a program of record that will result in a hit to kill missile akin to Lockheed’s Cuda concept, which is significantly shorter than an AMRAAM, with a similar range and seeker but no explosive warhead. The shorter, lighter, missiles allow for double carriage. While these will not be as sophisticated as the LREW they will certainly complicate an enemy’s plans.

So, how would a typical engagement go between the two planes? Let’s assume Russia has overcome Soviet-era electronics and made a radar that may (As of now, Russian S-400’s radar’s detection range of stealth object is below 34km) detect American fighter jets. The Russian ground-based radar may very well warn a squadron of Su-57’s sitting on alert that stealth fighters are inbound though it can not track them or target them precisely (there is a lot of electronic interference by AEW&C & Commando Solo). The squadron of Su-57’s launch to intercept. Within minutes the radars in the area go down as the F-35 launched miniature air-launched decoy (MALD-J). This scenario will play if we assume Russian ground radar is operational. But the ground radar is not operational as we have seen in Syria then there is a zero chance that Su-57 could fly and intercept any F-35. After all, the ground radar must be on in order to see F-35’s and if they are on, the F-35’s can also see the radars and will lob standoff missiles at them. F-35’s are excellent wild weasels and a flying hacker.

S-400 Detection Range 

Now the newly airborne squadron of 12 SU-57′s uses their IRST pods to search the sky for F-35’s. But these don’t help. For starters, IRST has a very narrow field of view and are highly impacted by environmental conditions and range is just 45km. The Pilots equate it to looking at the sky through a straw. Meanwhile, the F-35’s have some of the most powerful AESA radars ever mounted on a fighter aircraft (and Su-57s are perfectly visible from more than 100miles away), a supercomputer like power and millions of lines of software code also tell the F-35’s exactly how many and what type of planes they are up against and the first F-35 aircraft that detects the Russian flight seamlessly shares that information across the entire squadron, the F-35’s powerful computer might even be able to identify the squadron to which the enemy planes belong. And the F-35’s aren’t alone. The F-35 is armed with AMRAAM, mounted with MALD and MALD-J which are basically cheap drones designed to mimic stealth fighters and conventional fighter jets. The F-35 start to launch the MALD-J to blind the ground-based radar and took them out of equation quickly.

The Sukhoi’s are flying to the last known location that they were directed to by the high-frequency ground radar before it went offline due to MALD-J being launched. Suddenly, one of the Su-57’s believes he has got “lucky” when he sees a bright spot on his IR sensors. He’s found one! A single-engine fighter! What he has actually detected is a MALD, which he believes to be an F-35 and immediately the squadron of Sukhois begin to engage. More bright spots appear on the IR sensor of Su-57. The MALDs take evasive action and the Sukhois bleed energy engaging and depleting BVR missile round quicker. It was a trap of course as the F-35s had plenty of time to prepare. As the Russians begin to engage the dummy targets MALD, their missile warning lights pop on and before they have sufficient time to react several explode. Hey, but at least they downed two drones! The remaining Su-57’s turn tail and run.

But the F-35’s were anticipating the retreat, and like good shepherds driving their sheep to the slaughter, the American fighters ran the Russian planes directly into more missiles launched by other F-35’s. BAM, BAM, BAM. No more Sukhoi. How many F-35s were there in the wolf pack? Who knows? It might have been six, it might have been a squadron. Within minutes the High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) takes out the search radar and command station to the stone age. The reserve Russian fighters on the airfield begin to explode as the F-35 releases Small diameter bombs (SDB) take out every target worth hitting.

Latakia base before and after Israeli Air Strike

What this says to me is that the S-400 was either unable to get a firing solution, or the Russian commanders are grossly incompetent (or the Russians knew about the strike well in advance and are, gasp, lying). It’s also possible that the Russians actually didn’t see the strike occurring (either due to EW or the S-400 radar failing to detect it) and were taken entirely by surprise when the Israelis contacted them with the missiles 1 minute (maybe 15km or less) out from the targets.

The fact that the Syrians didn’t fire during the strike either suggests to me that F-35’s EW attacks disabled both Syrian and Russian systems AKA S-400.

That’s basically the reality of what a Su-57 vs F-35 fight would look like. The Su-57’s would never know how many F-35 were there, they could never be sure of their targets; meanwhile, the F-35’s can cherry picks how they want to engage and when they want to engage.

You can now imagine why the Russian decided that the SU-57 was not sufficiently advanced over its predecessors to justify the costs. The Russians have a history of being extremely pragmatic in such things. They went through the whole process of defrauding, used the media spin doctor Sputnik news to up the antics of their Shuttle-ski, flew it, realized the shortfalls, failed to con the Indians and then unceremoniously dumped Su-57.

Finally, the Iraq war was not the war between the West and Iraq. It was a war between the Western technology vs Russian technology. You know by now, who won the war.

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