The SU-57 - My Love Affair With A Psyop

Article written by Ethan Peasley-Lynch

Image credit: Dmitry Terekhov on Flickr. Image used with permission under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 License. Image has been cropped slightly.

Not quite as advertised

    Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has struggled to modernize its armed forces. Economic stagnation, political instability, and international sanctions have hindered Russia's efforts to acquire cutting-edge defense technology. In order to secure funding for its latest defense projects, Russia has relied on selling its newest technology to other countries in order to afford it themselves. Prestige projects like the T-14 Armada, and indeed the SU-57 are just that - unrealized concepts intended to spur interest in the Russian defense industry. While the SU-57 was pitched to India as their next generation aircraft, the Indian government quickly withdrew from the HAL FGFA design licensing program in order to pursue the domestically designed HAL AMCA. With Russia now largely isolated from the world economy due to sanctions from the Russo-Ukrainian war, the SU-57 has few potential clients beyond Iran, who recently opted for the older Sukhoi SU-35. As of December 2022, eleven serial SU-57 units have been produced. The actual finality of their design is debatable, considering the exposed screws that were seen in promotional material, in addition to the aircraft reportedly receiving new Izdeliye 30 engines in the near future. In contrast, Lockheed-Martin's F-35 is quickly closing in on 1000 produced units. 
    Even if Russia's United Aircraft Corporation were able to mass produce the SU-57, there would be no getting around its obvious technical inferiority to its contemporaries. Sukhoi has billed the SU-57 as a fifth generation stealth fighter, but it fails to meet the fifth gen benchmark set by the F-22 and F-35. An easy starting point to evaluate these fighters on is RCS, or Radar Cross Section. RCS is essentially the size of an aircraft as detected by radar. Through various techniques this can be reduced below the size of the aircraft itself. The Lockheed Martin F-22, the SU-57s closest American analogue, has (to the public's knowledge) a Radar Cross Section of one ten thousandth of a square meter at certain angles, or around the size of a bee. Sukhoi's official numbers place the SU-57 at between 0.1 and 1 square meter. Korea Aerospace Industries' KF-21 Boramae, an upcoming fighter which has been billed as a "4.5" generation fighter, has a RCS of 0.5 square meters. Obviously, the SU-57 fits far more with fourth generation fighters than with any fifth generation fighter, even China's Chengdu J-20 (which, admittedly, makes use of technology stolen from Lockheed-Martin).
    This may sound like me chanting the choir's chorus, but all I'm doing is providing the facts. Even if the SU-57 is an aircraft entirely designed for propaganda, even if only eleven exist, even if it fails on every single metric of a fifth gen fighter, I can't help but love it.

Admiration of a Failure

     Image is under Creative Commons License.

   My older brother JP, this blog's other author, frequently laughs at me for my love of the SU-57. I understand that it's completely deserved. Rationally, I should laugh at it like seemingly everybody else, but when I see its sleek profile and angular intakes, the logical side of my brain goes dark and I simply gaze in awe. As far as I'm concerned, the SU-57 is the most beautiful aircraft ever made. Its front profile is unlike any other fighter jet. The SU-57s appearance in Top Gun: Maverick as the nameless "Fifth Gen Fighter" only cemented my appreciation for Sukhoi's design work. Its distinctive design makes it stand out from the subjectively featureless F-22 and F-35. While that may very well be what compromised its stealth capabilities, I wouldn't change a thing about it. The SU-57 maintains the Russian design tradition of supermaneuverability, likely making it a fearsome dogfighting opponent (if that still mattered). If nothing else, it makes a great centerpiece for the MAKS Airshow. While compromised in its intended role, I don't think it needs to change. I would argue that the SU-57 is more a victim of poor market positioning than of poor design.

Where should it be?

    Had the UAC billed the SU-57 as a "5- gen" fighter, I think it could have achieved a far greater (meaning any) market share. Its estimated 55 million dollar unit cost makes it a compelling option in comparison to many similarly capable but more expensive fighters such as the KAI KF-21 Boramae, Boeing F-15EX, Saab JAS-39 Gripen, and the TAI TF-Kaan.
    As it was promoted, the SU-57 is a failure. This could have been fixed if Russia were willing to compromise on its propaganda value in order to properly market it. However, that's essentially impossible considering Russia's need for national prestige. While I understand why, I can't help but be disappointed that a design as appealing as the SU-57 will essentially go to waste. On the other hand, I should probably be careful about what I wish for - I don't want to hear those screaming engines over my head anytime soon.


Aircraft 101. J-20 Radar Scattering Simulation. Aircraft 101, 27 Nov. 2022,


Jenn, D. “RCS Reduction (Chapter 7).” Https://, Naval Postgraduate School, 2011.

“Korean Supersonic Fighter KF21 “Boramae” Unit 2 Launched Its First Successful Flight.” The Herald Insight 헤럴드 인사이트 청소년 영자신문, 16 Dec. 2022,

Nikolov, Boyko. “How Su-57 Dodged the F-22/F-35’S Lifetime “Crippling Cost Bullet.””, 23 June 2023,

Wikipedia Contributors. “Sukhoi Su-57.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Sept. 2019,


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