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    Russian Su-57 Stealth Fighter: Missing from Ukraine’s Airspace

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    Despite being touted as a sophisticated fifth-generation stealth fighter, Russia’s Su-57, also known by NATO as the ‘Felon,’ has been noticeably missing from the Ukrainian conflict, a war that appears to be the perfect operational theater for such advanced aircraft.

    “There’s geopolitical reputation, but I think there’s also the reputation of the Russian defense industry to consider, and how that would look to prospective buyers of this aircraft,” Mike Dahm, a former US Navy intelligence officer, told Insider.

    Recent intelligence and defense analyses suggest that the Su-57 may not be as capable or as ready for frontline deployment as Russian officials have claimed.

    The Su-57 was introduced to the Russian military in 2020, with the first serial production aircraft delivered in the same year.

    As of February 2024, there are reportedly as few as 10 Su-57s in Russia’s arsenal, with estimates suggesting that this number may increase to 22 by the end of the following year and 76 by 2028.

    The high-threat environment in Ukraine, with sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs) posing significant risks, would appear to be the very scenario fifth-generation stealth fighters were made for.

    Yet, the Felon has been mostly absent. If employed, its use has been extremely conservative, limited to launching long-range missiles from Russian territory.

    The British defense ministry stated that since at least June 2022, the Russian air force has “almost certainly used” the Su-57 in this limited capacity.

    Western intelligence and aviation experts suggest a lack of confidence in the Su-57’s stealth capabilities is behind its limited deployment.

    Sukhoi Su-57 RF-81775 Army-2022” by Boevaya mashina is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

    “Russian reticence to employ the Su-57 close to the frontlines despite having a huge amount to potentially gain by being able to operate more freely in the face of Ukrainian SAM systems suggests that they do not have confidence in the claimed stealth properties of the jet,” Justin Bronk, an airpower and technology expert at the UK-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank, told Insider.

    Moreover, the risk of reputational damage from losing a Su-57 to Ukraine’s air defenses is likely a significant deterrent. Russia’s defense industry would suffer a severe blow if its cutting-edge jet were to be shot down, impacting its arms export prospects.

    Aircraft sales are a key component of Russia’s arms exports, which have been second only to the United States, accounting for 20% of global sales since 2016.

    This cautious approach has meant that the Su-57’s purported capabilities, such as being comparable to or better than U.S. stealth fighters like the F-22 and F-35, have yet to be tested in a real-world high-intensity conflict.

    Consequently, claims by Russian state media and officials of the Su-57’s superiority over Western aircraft remain unproven.

    Furthermore, if a Su-57 were to be shot down, the consequences could include the exposure of sensitive technologies. Western intelligence agencies may examine any salvageable debris, potentially gaining insights for developing countermeasures. The secrecy surrounding the Su-57 raises questions, as its absence in Ukraine raises doubts about Russia’s stealth fighter capabilities.

    Relevant articles:
    Where’s the Su-57? The war in Ukraine is what fifth-generation fighter jets were made for, but Russia’s Felon has largely been missing in action, Business Insider
    Russia’s Su-57 Stealth Fighter Is Pointless, The National Interest
    Has Russia Deployed Sukhoi Su-57 Fifth-Generation Stealth Fighters in Ukraine?, kyivpost.com

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