Why Su-57E is A $100 Million Dud?

A screen grab from a video of RT news. Screws are visible on the airframe of Su-57 without any surface treatment. Source RT news.

The Su-57 jet is Russia’s proclaimed fifth-generation fighter aircraft that has been advertised as a competitor to systems such as the American F-35. But while the aircraft has been in development since 2002, the widely advertised system has not yet been delivered to any foreign militaries except one production aircraft delivered to Russian Aerospace Force with a 117S inferior engine and Irbis-E phased array radar. Let’s look at why Su-57 is a dud?

Engine

One of the biggest challenges has been the jet’s intended second-generation engine. The izdeliye 30 engine is not in series production yet and is still completing flight tests.

The current Su-57 is still using the older engine. And while the Russian Air Force is slated to receive 76 Su-57 jets by the late 2030, they will not have the intended second-generation engine.

There are delays in developing low observable stealth technology, advanced avionics, and sensor capabilities, all of which are crucial for a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. And these delays have pushed out the delivery delays until late 2028. Additionally, in December 2019, a test flight crash has raised concerns about the safety of the aircraft at this point in its development.

Airframe

Russia’s airframe structure is spliced together using fasteners drill through the skin and into the frame at predetermined locations. The process involves evaluating drills, drilling tool geometry, tool efficiency, tool life, hole-drilling time, cost per hole drilled and other variables; hence the Sukhoi Su-57 and Su-75 have visible screws and drill holes enhancing the radar signature of the aircraft. Thanks to poor quality, screws are exposed to heat and weather conditions detrimental to the integrity of the aircraft’s airframe.

Cockpit

The Su-57 uses cockpit display control systems that are almost identical to Su-35.

Su-57 Cockpit

The display system in the cockpit consists of two large color multi-function displays, a wide-angle diffraction head-up display and at least three small liquid crystal displays. Two fifteen-inch large multi-function displays of Su-30 legacy fighter. The cockpit is full of 1970s analogue buttons and switches everywhere identical to Russia’s first generation Su-27 aircraft.

Radar

Sukhoi has delivered Su-57 aircraft to Russian Aerospace Force with Irbis-E phased array radar identical to Su-35 aircraft.

Russia is the ONLY country offering fighter jets without an AESA radar to export markets. Almost all American and European fourth-generation and fifth-generation fighters have an AESA radar.

19970’s analogue temperature and coolant gauges of Irbis-E radar.

Russia’s Irbis-E radar’s flight test video allegedly detected a single target from 268 km but couldn’t track the target until 100 km – all the while having just a single target to track. The Irbis-E does not have SAR capability.

Su-57’s radar can’t engage a Destroyer beyond 100 km in air-ground and an aircraft carrier beyond 200 km in volume search.

According to Interfax news, Russia still has not designed a cost-effective AESA radar set and has problems with the technology required to manufacture the radar’s transmit and receive modules.

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Russian OLS

This is without even highlighting the fact that published range figures for Russian IRST are based on cued-search. In volume search, they’re less than 1/3. This is why radar is the primary means of Situational Awareness in Su-57 or any 4th gen. for that matter.

The maximum range of OLS-35’s Laser Range finder (LRF) is 20km. You can’t use IRST for targeting without range/velocity data that must come from the LRF.

OLS

And the Su-35 pilot has no means of detecting fighter’s BVR missiles until they go ‘active’ in terminal stage. That’s because Su-57 like all Russian aircraft use UV-based Missile Warning System (MAWS) – that are primarily for detecting SAM launches (high UV-C emission & at lower altitude). At higher altitude ozone concentration increases by a factor of 6 – making UV based MAWS practically useless against BVR missiles.

Sanctions

Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and occupation of eastern Ukraine has hindered the development of the Su-57. In 2017, the enactment of the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, has further challenged Russia’s ability to develop and export Russian defense systems.

United Aircraft Corporation has then become strained and go into debt if there are issues with development delays or the exporting of military aircraft. As a result, the Russian government has had to bail out these industries, which puts additional pressure on overall government spending and defense spending, as this is tied to income generated by oil and gas sales.

Exports

India entered into a joint development program back in 2007 but pulled out in 2018 due to development delays.

There were also reports in December 2019 claiming that Algeria signed a contract for 12 Su-57 jets, which would effectively make them the first export customer of the aircraft. Sukhoi is unlikely that the company would meet the 2025 intended deadline for the Algerian sale. Algerian law requires imported military aircraft to first be flight-tested in Algeria, which the Russian military would never allow.

According to Interfax, Russia’s top arms dealer Rostec claims two Southeast Asian countries have inquired about purchasing Su-57s for $100 million apiece. These likely include Myanmar and Vietnam, all operators of Russian jet fighters.

To Summarize

In general, the Su-57 and Flanker family, a crowd pleasure in air shows with its cobra manoeuvre but look beneath the propaganda, and they don’t excel anywhere outside the air shows.

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