- Russia’s fifth-generation fighter jet that made an appearance at Russia’s Victory Day parade isn’t really a stealth jet.
- The side-mounted radars on the Su-57 allow it to excel at a tactic called “beaming” that can trick the radars on US stealth jets.
- But it’s unclear now if Russia will ever produce the Su-57 in reasonable quantities.
Russia’s “fifth-generation,” “combat-tested,” “stealth” fighter jet has a lot of dubious claims made about it, but recent close-up photography of the plane from Russia’s Victory Day parade on May 9 reveals it’s just not a stealth jet.
Russia has tried to sell the plane as a stealth jet to India, but India backed out. Considering a shrinking economy and defense spending, it’s unclear now if Russia will ever produce the Su-57 in reasonable quantities.
Business Insider asked a senior scientist working on stealth aircraft how to evaluate the plane’s stealth, and the results were not good.
Take a look at the pictures below and see if you can spot what’s wrong:
T-50 aircraft got new livery for the Parade of Victory pic.twitter.com/0z99xY53Sq
— UAC Russia (@UAC_Russia_eng) May 6, 2018
The scientist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of stealth work, pointed out six major problems from the pictures.
First, take a look at the seams between the flaps on the aircraft – they’re big. For reference, look at the US’s F-22, the stealthiest fighter jet on earth:
- Photo by Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois
The flaps at the end of the wing have very tight seams, which don’t scatter radar waves, thereby maintaining a low profile.
Secondly, look at the Su-57’s vertical rear tails. They have a wide gap where they stray from the fuselage. Keeping a tight profile is essential to stealth, according to the scientist.
- Marina Lystseva via the youngster
Look at the F-35’s rear tails for reference; they touch the whole way.
- Lockheed Martin
Third, look at the nose of the Su-57. It has noticeable seams around the canopy, which kills stealth. The F-35 and F-22 share a smooth, sloped look.
It’s likely Russia doesn’t have the machining technology to produce such a surface. The actual nose of the Su-57 looks bolted on with noticeable rivets.
Finally, take a look at the underside of the Su-57; it has rivets and sharp edges everywhere. “If nothing else convinces that no effort at [stealth] was attempted, this is the clincher,” the scientist said.
Russia didn’t even try at stealth, but that’s not the purpose
- Russian Embassy via Twitter
As the scientist said, Russia didn’t even appear to seriously try to make a stealth aircraft. The Su-57 takes certain measures, like storing weapons internally, that improve the stealth, but it’s leaps and bounds from a US or even Chinese effort.
This highlights the true purpose of Russia’s new fighter – not to evade radar itself, but to kill US stealth jets like the F-35 and F-22.
The Su-57 will feature side mounted radars along its nose, an infrared search-and-track radar up front, and additional radars in front and back, as well as on the wings.
As The Drive’s Tyler Rogoway writes, the side-mounted radars on the Su-57 allow it to excel at a tactic called “beaming” that can trick the radars on US stealth jets. Beaming entails flying perpendicular to a fighter’s radar in a way that makes the fighter dismiss the signature of the jet as a non-target.
Any fighter can “beam” by flying sideways, but the Su-57, with sideways-mounted radars, can actually guide missiles and score kills from that direction.
Russia has long taken a different approach to fighter aircraft than the US, but the Su-57 shows that even without the fancy percision-machined stealth of an F-22, Moscow’s jets can remain dangerous and relevant.