As most of the enemies of the United States are still, as Walter Sobchak would say, “a bunch of fig-eaters wearing towels on their heads, trying to find reverse in a Soviet tank,” we tend to enjoy air superiority. Dog-fights with technologically advanced opponents are incredibly rare. Yet the F-35 seems to be squaring off with the Russian Su-57 in ways we hadn’t envisioned.
“Russia announced earlier this month that the Su-57, its proposed entry into the world of fifth-generation stealth-fighter aircraft, would not see mass production,” Business Insider writes.
“The plane has proven to be very good, including in Syria, where it confirmed its performance and combat capabilities,” Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov told reporters July 2.
Their message, though, seems oddly contradictory. They love the Su-57, but are scaling back production. “The Su-57 is considered to be one of the best aircraft produced in the world. Consequently, it does not make sense to speed up work on mass-producing the fifth-generation aircraft.”
BI spoke with Justin Bronk, a combat-aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute. Bronk’s interpretation is much different. The success of the Su-57, he says, “could be charitably described as an unreasonably optimistic reason why they stopped production.”
Russia’s claim that the plane is so dominant that they don’t need to build it, seems to fall flat with just about everyone. Instead it appears that the Su-57’s competition is so good that it is already obsolete, before it has even entered full production.
“The Su-57, a plane designed to function as a killer of US F-35 and F-22 stealth jets with an innovative array of radars, saw a brief period of combat over Syria, but the deployment lasted only days and didn’t pit the jet against any threats befitting a world-class fighter,” BI adds.
The Su-57 had been a joint project with India. Russia, it has been noted, doesn’t always play well with others. After contentious debates about costs and production schedules, India backed out. Now they are considering the option of buying F-35s.
In the end, the Su-57 took too long to develop. While the plane showed tremendous promise, the rapid development of the F-35 (at least by comparison) has left the program behind. The costs of producing a competitive product outweighed the benefits, so it was scrapped.
“Russia is more or less admitting defeat in building a feasible fifth-generation fighter,” Bronk said.
Now all that is reasonably left is China’s J-20. The F-35, and the air superiority it provides in the hands of a capable pilot, is taking down the competition before those planes get out of their testing phase.