War in Ukraine: Russia would have deployed the Su

The Sukhoi Felon, a fifth-generation fighter commissioned in 2020, would be used by the Russians for air-to-air or air-to-ground missions, according to British intelligence.

In Ukraine, Russia does not only use old soviet era tanks and guns, but also throws its best weapons into the battle, as revealed by the British. “Since at least June 2022, the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) have with near certainty used the Su-57 Felon to conduct missions against Ukrainesaid the Ministry of Defense in a press release published across the Channel on January 9. Felon is Russia’s most modern fifth-generation supersonic combat aircraft, using stealth technologies and highly advanced avionics“.

The fighter plane, which made its first flight in 2010 and officially entered service in 2020 with the Russian forces, would not have flown directly over Ukrainian territory. “These missions were probably limited to launching long-range air-to-surface or air-to-air missiles into Ukraine from Russian territory.“, write the British. In particular, the risk for the Russians of seeing the flagship of their air force shot down by the Ukrainians, which would seriously affect their reputation. “The priority for Russia is most likely to avoid the reputational damage, reduced export prospects and compromise of sensitive technology that would come from the loss of Felon in Ukraine.», Analyzes the British ministry.

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“Aversion to risk”

If this is significant for the Su-57, this caution is observed more generally among Russian airmen since the beginning of the war. In February 2022, the first strikes did not allow Moscow to destroy the Ukrainian fleet, however old and poorly supplied, and especially the whole of kyiv’s air defense, which can still count on original systems Soviet S-300 or Buk, to which are added many Western short-range missiles such as the american stingers. Despite an overwhelming air superiority, the Russians have therefore not acquired mastery of the aerial sky and their fighters venture shallowly into Ukraine.

The use of the Su-57 is part of this logic, note the British: “This is symptomatic of Russia’s persistent risk aversion for its air force employment.“. The Russians certainly use massively on the front line their old and robust Su-25 ground attack planes, not without risk since the Oryx site lists 25 Sukhoi of this type destroyed – compared to some 200 in service. The destruction of a Su-57 would have a completely different political impact, especially since the VKS only have a dozen of these fifth-generation fighters.

An image taken by a commercial satellite of the Akhtubinsk base on December 25. British Ministry of Defense

Recent footage shows five Felons stationed at Akhtubinsk Air Base, which hosts the 929th Flight Test Center. As this is the only known Felon base, these aircraft were likely involved in operations against Ukraine», Analyzes British intelligence, which publishes an image of a commercial satellite dating from December 25. “Akhtubinsk is not the ‘only known Felon base’ and even if it were, it would not be proof that the Su-57 was used operationally in the Ukrainian war.“, nuances the specialized site The War Zone who nevertheless believes that,if the Felon was used in combat, the UK MOD certainly has much more compelling evidence than it has shared so far“. Another Russian air base, in Lipetsk, also received copies of the Su-57, specifies the media of defense.

The idea that the Su-57 could be engaged in Ukraine is not new. Quoting a “defense industry source” anonymous, a dispatch from the agency Mug asserted as early as May that “the use of Su-57 in Ukraine had started two to three weeks after the start of the special operation“. And in October, General Sergey Surovikin, commander of the Russian operation in Ukraine, also evoked the Felonexplaining that the plane, whichhas a wide range of weapons, with each exit solves multifaceted tasks of destroying air and ground targets“. The Russian fighter has already been briefly deployed in Syria in 2018.

Fifth generation aircraft, the Felon is more stealthy than its predecessors even if stealth is less sought after by the Russians, who favor the maneuverability of their aircraft, than by the Americans, like their F-22 or F-fighters. 35.

Change of situation?

The Su-57 also implements a system of “tactical data linkwhich allows it – on paper – to interact and coordinate with other aircraft or military equipment. “This could help provide intelligence and support other operations in real time», comments The War Zone. However, we have seen this since the beginning of the war, what we call the three “VS” – to “Command, Control, Communications– is an acute weakness of the Russian army.

The fighter aircraft also deploys new missiles, in particular long-range air-to-ground or air-to-air weapons that may prove useful for engagement from Russian territory. A Ukrainian pilot of MiG-29, quoted by the american mediafor example, mentioned the R-37M air-to-air missile with a range of 200 kilometers, which he described as “fucking dangerous» weapon. The Kh-69 stealth cruise missile could also be useful to the Russians for precision strikes, as Moscow struggles to renew its missile stocks to continue its bombing campaigns deep into Ukrainian territory.

Even so, the use of the Su-57 “not going to make much of a differencein the War in Ukraine, note The War Zoneeven if itscombat deployment, even on an experimental basis, could give the Russians very valuable results in terms of evaluating the performance of the aircraft“. In question: the low number of devices, which can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the conservatism of their use. And the situation should hardly change in the short term since Russia has ordered 76 Su-57s to be delivered by 2028.

The main question is elsewhere: beyond the tip of the sword represented by the few Felons, will Russia be able to commit more of its air force? The VKS have around 200 Su-30 and Su-35 fighters, modern aircraft derived from the old Soviet Su-27s. And the dozens of Russian bombers, threatened by the Ukrainian DCA, fire their missiles from a distance, without being able to directly cover Ukrainian soil with bombs. More than the Su-57 itself, the increased commitment of these Russian air assets will be for the Ukrainians one of the major challenges for 2023.

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War in Ukraine: Russia would have deployed the Su-57, its most modern fighter plane