Military Aviation

The Su-57 Felon is marketed as stealth fighter but It has the same RCS of a clean F/A-18 Super Hornet (and 1,000 times bigger than that of the F-35). Here’s why.

The Su-57 is nowhere near F-35 for similar reasons as to why F/A-18 Super Hornets are nowhere near F-35. The gap in Stealth and ultimately Situational Awareness is just overwhelming.

The Sukhoi Su-57 (NATO reporting name: Felon) is a twin-engine stealth multirole fighter aircraft developed by Sukhoi. It is the product of the PAK FA (”prospective aeronautical complex of front-line air forces”) programme, which was initiated in 1999 as a more modern and affordable alternative to the Mikoyan Project 1.44/1.42.

Sukhoi’s internal designation for the aircraft is T-50. The Su-57 is the first aircraft in Russian military service designed with stealth technology and is intended to be the basis for a family of stealth combat aircraft.

However, even though the Su-57 is marketed as fifth generation fighter, the Felon is not a true stealth fighter and it can’t be compared to the US-made F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. Why is that?

Advanced Super Hornet

‘Imagine if Boeing were to market F/A-18 Super Hornets or F-15 Silent Eagles with Enclosed Weapons pod and weapon bays as a ‘Stealth aircraft’ along the lines of 5th gen. aircraft, how do you think they would compare to F-35?,’ says Abhirup Sengupta, an aviation expert, on Quora.

‘That’s analogous to calling Su-57 a direct competitor to the F-35 and F-22. Sukhoi’s own patent claims Su-57 having a design RCS between 0.1 and 1 m^2.

For a known aircraft [Su-27], the EPR value is about 10–15 m 2.

The technical result, the achievement of which the invention is directed, is to reduce the magnitude of the aircraft radar visibility to an average value of the order of 0.1 – 1 m 2.

Sukhoi Su-57 Patent – RCS Reduction

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‘That’s comparable to a clean Super Hornet and it shouldn’t be a surprise when Su-57 follows many of the same RCS-reduction measures such as using radar blockers to hide the engine face instead of an actual serpentine duct.

‘It’s not just Su-57 being less stealthy than F-35 (-40 dBsm) – it has a 1,000 times bigger RCS. Since detection range is proportional to the 4th root of RCS, a 1,000 times bigger RCS equates to 5.6 times greater detection range. And this is after giving Su-57 every benefit of doubt, the F-35’s RCS is very likely closer to -50 dB.’

Sengupta continues;

‘The F-35 will be enjoying almost 6 times greater detection range against Su-57. The difference is so huge that Su-57 will be hopelessly outclassed. We see this time and again in Red Flags and Northern Edge with F-35 having 28–1 kill ratio against modern 4th gen. aircraft backed by AWACS and SAMs. The enormous difference in detection range from Stealth is the primary factor for such a lopsided kill ratio.

‘It doesn’t matter how capable radar or EW suite you have, they simply can’t compensate the enormous difference in detection range from a VLO airframe. You can have amazing performance at airshows but without Stealth you’re not gonna be in a fight against 5th gen. aircraft.

‘And this is ignoring the infancy of Su-57 program and consistent delay in the production/IOC since last 4 years or the fact Su-57’s avionics suite is not remotely comparable to that of F-35. The F-35 has a bigger and much more capable radar and orders of magnitude more powerful EW suite giving vastly superior Situational Awareness.

‘Where F-35’s DAS make it the only Fighter to fully operate in the IR spectrum, Su-57 can’t even use its forward-hemisphere IRST without further ruining its RCS. The IRST is turned backwards in Su-57 because it’s a sphere, the worst shape in terms of RCS that uniformly reflects in all direction.

‘Despite all the problems with Su-57 program including lack of existence or international interest, the fundamental design is so far behind F-35 in terms of both Stealth and Situational Awareness – two key aspects of a 5th gen. aircraft. The Su-57’s design is closer to that of modern 4th gen. than it is to either F-22 or F-35.

‘Yet the Su-57 is portrayed as an equal counterpart to F-22 and F-35 with people talking about its kinematic performance or side-arrays without even understanding their actual purpose, let alone the impact on EMCON. How great are the Directed IRCMs (Laser turrets) while turning a blind eye to the fact Su-57 use a UV based Missile Warning System – making Su-57 significantly vulnerable to BVR missiles. 10 years since first flight and there’s no indication of K-77M or K-74M anywhere close to being operational, forcing Su-57 to fly with R-77 & R-74 externally (as they won’t fit inside).’

Sengupta concludes;

‘Imagine the kind of articles you’d see if F-35 didn’t have an operational missile that could fit internally. The Su-57 gets away with all the shortcomings using propaganda and fantasies, the likes of non-existent L band radar.

‘The Su-57 is nowhere near F-35 for similar reasons as to why F/A-18 Super Hornets are nowhere near F-35. The gap in Stealth and ultimately Situational Awareness is just overwhelming.’

Photo credit: U.S. Navy, Boeing, Sukhoi and Chinese Internet

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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