Su-57 serves as yet another warning sign to any potential aggressor foolish enough to underestimate Russia and its technological prowess. Writes Drago Bosnic
Every large-scale military operation requires the use of advanced systems and platforms to achieve the goals set by the high command. Low-level conflicts involving terrorist groups or limited forces of state actors can also offer an opportunity to use those same systems and platforms, although their effectiveness and impact can be questionable if they are considered an “overkill”, since the enemy’s technological strength is pretty low.
There are also conflicts which come somewhere between large-scale military operations and antiterrorist/low-level warfare, with the most notable example being Syria. The Russian grouping of forces in Syria is using advanced weapons, systems and platforms, but its main workhorse in Syria has been the late 1960s/early 1970s-era Su-24M, modernized with new SVP-24 targeting systems, produced by a Russian company “Gefest & T”. It has proven so effective, that Russia plans to modernize most of its attack/close air support jets and even long-range bombers with variations of the system. However, the system is relatively simple and focuses mainly on making obsolete unguided munitions as effective as guided ones. Thus, its impact is mostly related to cost-effectiveness, as it doesn’t offer any groundbreaking technological strategic or tactical advantages. What are Russia’s new assets, with platforms such as the Su-57.
The jet has been at the forefront of Russia’s investment in aviation technology. Consequently, it’s one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world. The jet is bristling with sensors and new advanced technologies making it a real “overkill” in anything but large-scale military operations. It has seen battle in Syria even before it officially entered Russian service, making this another peculiarity, as such advanced platforms take years, even decades to reach IOC (initial operational capability), let alone FOC (full operational capability). Videos published by the Russian Ministry of Defense prove that the jet was indeed in Syria in February 2018, conducting combat missions. However, the conflict is far from the Su-57’s capabilities. With the notable exception being Israeli incursions and possibly Turkish forces just across the border to the north, Su-57 in Syria doesn’t come even remotely close to showing more than an insignificant fraction of its capabilities.
Although nothing less than a near-peer adversary is necessary for the Su-57 to truly shine, a situation which we will hopefully avoid, Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine does offer significantly more opportunities and options for the advanced jet, even though Ukraine’s dilapidated air force made using even the Su-35 an “overkill”. On the other hand, Ukraine does have, or more precisely, had one of the largest and most advanced air defense networks in Europe, if not the world. With the country inheriting around 30% of the massive Soviet military, by far the largest and most powerful armed force in the history of man, with a special focus on advanced air defense systems, Ukraine was bristling with systems ranging from short-range Strela-10 to various modifications of the once long-unrivaled S-300.
In such a contested environment, the Russian military managed to accomplish near-absolute air superiority in mere days. In late February, we had numerous sources and videos showing the usage of nearly all Russian aircraft types, except one – Su-57. Apart from one instance where a Su-34 fighter-bomber was mistaken for a Su-57, the latter was never confirmed to be taking part in the special operation. However, most recent sources confirm that the jet isn’t just operating in Ukraine, but has been since at least March 11, or possibly even from February 24. Although the number of operational Su-57 jets is yet to reach a full squadron, there are still enough of them to be used in Ukraine.
How exactly the Russian military could be using the Su-57? An entire separate analysis would require the breakdown of the jet’s capabilities, so apart from a few details, that will not be the focus of our interest in this case. As we all know, Su-57 is a fifth-generation jet, although it already transcends this designation even now, but nearly completely with the new Su-57M which is in the final stages of development. Its capabilities include stealth/LO (low observability), advanced sensors and sensor fusion, new avionics, new radars, unmanned flight, directed energy and hypersonic weapons, among many other things. Despite these qualities which virtually no other jet possesses, Su-57 is significantly less costly than its Western counterparts, with less logistical strain and simpler maintenance.
Naturally, the risk of the jet being shot down is always present, as was the case with the US F-117A, which was downed over Serbia, considered the pinnacle of aircraft engineering at the time. But, this is a risk worth taking, as Russia is pushing back the belligerent “defensive alliance” encroaching on its borders. To prevent further arming of the Kiev regime, the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) are targeting Western weapons shipments and Kiev regime troop concentrations. Su-57 is using its advanced sensors to relay information to other less advanced platforms, such as the Su-34 and Su-30SM. In doing so, the VKS is getting top-of-the-line ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) data, without risking other more vulnerable assets.
Apart from providing vital battlefield information, Su-57 can also use a plethora of advanced weapons, especially in SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) missions, which are still of vital importance, as Kiev regime forces still operate a lot of air defense systems and are also actively being provided new ones by the political West. Su-57 can use the Kh-38M (including its Kh-36 variant) surface-to-air weapons (both missile and guided bomb versions), as well as the Kh-59 cruise missiles (all variants of it). The latter is especially useful, as it is cheaper than the now legendary “Kalibr” cruise missile used by the Russian Navy. Also, Su-57 can carry 4-6 such missiles in its internal weapons bay. In addition, there is the Kh-58 high-speed anti-radiation missile, a special version of which has been modified to be carried by the Su-57. The missile is of crucial importance for destroying Kiev regime forces’ extensive radar network used in observation and target acquisition for its mid to long-range air defense systems.
In conclusion, Su-57 in its full might is most certainly an ”overkill”, even against a country like Ukraine. However, the conflict also provides what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for such advanced platforms to be tested, improved or have any possible problems resolved. It also provides a boost for the national defense institutions, which are working round the clock to make sure Russia is safe from any possible attempts to jeopardize it, as was the case with numerous other attempts in the country’s long history. Thus, Su-57 serves as yet another warning sign to any potential aggressor foolish enough to underestimate Russia and its technological prowess.
Drago Bosnic, independent geopolitical and military analyst.
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