The Russian Air Force is slated to take delivery of its first Sukhoi Su-57 fighter aircraft, Russia’s first purported indigenously designed and built fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, in 2019, according to the deputy head of the Sukhoi Aircraft Company, Alexander Pekarsh.
“If we speak about the Su-57 program, we are today at the stage of manufacturing the first serial aircraft,” Pekarsh, who oversees the company’s Komsomolsk-on-Amur production facility in the Russian Far East where Su-57 planes are manufactured, was quoted as saying by TASS news agency on February 26. “In 2018, we completed the manufacture and the delivery of a batch of prototype planes that are now undergoing trials. Under the existing contract with the Defense Ministry, we have two planes in the production process, with the timeframe for the delivery of the first aircraft in 2019 and the second plane in 2020.”
The February 26 announcement by Pekarsh is in line with previous Russian statement that two Su-57 aircraft are expected to be delivered to the Russian Air Force in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Earlier this month, United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) President,Yuri Slyusar, also announced that the first, serially produced Su-57 will be handed over to the Russian Air Force by the end of 2019. It unclear, however, what Slyusar specifically means when he refers to the serial production of the aircraft. Also, while Slyusar claims that a contract between UAC and the Russian Ministry of Defense to that effect has been inked in 2018, other media reports denied the signing of such a contract. In addition, past reports always referred to a pre-production batch of 12 Su-57s rather than serially-produced aircraft.
At the moment, there are 10 Su-57 prototypes undergoing various stages of testing and evaluation. However, nine out of the 10 the Su-57 prototypes are equipped with a derivative of the Russian-made Saturn AL-41F1S engine, the AL-41F1, an older aircraft engine also installed on the Sukhoi Su-35S Flanker-E, and not with the more advanced Saturn izdeliye 30 engine featuring increased thrust and fuel efficiency and fitted with 3D thrust vectoring nozzles. The Saturn izdeliye 30 engine, which enables the Su-57 to supercruise without afterburners, is not expected to be ready for serial production for a number of years.
Consequently, it is likely that the new aircraft will fly with the AL-41F1, which would call into question the stealth capabilities of the aircraft. The aircraft’s sensor suite and other mission systems also reportedly continue to suffer from developmental issues. Furthermore, the Su-57 lacks other high-end low-observable design features. All of this calls into question Russian claims that the Su-57 is a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet in its current configuration.
Notably, the MoD announced in 2018 that it will not mass-produce the Su-57. A major reason for this decision was the unsustainable costs of the program, amplified by India’s decision to abandon co-development of the Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), also known in India as the Perspective Multi-role Fighter (PMF). India was a major investor in the joint defense project and the Su-57 was developed under the FGFA/PMF program.