- Russia currently only has 10 prototypes, but in their current configuration, they lack some of the advanced capabilities and all-aspect stealth typical of fifth-generation fighters.
- Even with this order, Russia's fifth-gen airpower will still trail behind that of the US, which has a more developed program.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to order nearly five times as many fifth-generation Su-57 stealth fighters as originally planned to replace older fighters, strengthen Russian airpower, and give Russia a fighting chance in competition with its rivals.
"The 2028 arms program stipulated the purchase of 16 such jets," Putin explained during last week's defense meeting before announcing that the Russian military has "agreed to purchase 76 such fighters without the increase in prices in the same period of time."
The Russian president revealed that a 20 percent reduction in cost had made the purchase of additional fifth-gen fighters possible. Improvements in the production process are also reportedly behind Putin's decision to order more of the aircraft.
He added that a contract will be signed in the near future for the fighters, which he said will be armed with "modern weapons of destruction," according to Russia's state-run TASS News Agency. Such weapons could include the R-37M long-range hypersonic air-to-ar missile, an advanced standoff weapon with a range of more than 300 kilometers, Russian media reported .
The new Su-57s are expected to be delivered to three different aviation regiments. Those three units, Russian outlet Izvestia reported Monday, include regiments in the three main strategic regions in the northwest, southwest, and far east. The report said that only the best pilots would be trained on the aircraft.
Seventy-six of these fighters is a particularly tall order for the Russian military, which has had to cut orders for various programs, such as the T-14 Armata main battle tank, due to funding shortages. Right now, Russia only has 10 Su-57 prototypes, and fighter development has been moving much slower than initially expected.
The Su-57s chief developer argued late last year that the Su-57 is superior to US stealth fighter jets, a claim that most independent experts are skeptical of.
Russia's Su-57 fighters, as they are right now, largely rely on older fourth-generation engines, and they lack the kind of low observable stealth capabilities characteristic of true fifth-generation fighters, such as Lockheed Martin's highly-capable F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
That is not to say that the Russian fighter does not have its own advantageous features, such as the side-facing radars that give it the ability to trick the radars on US stealth fighters. And, it is possible, even likely, that the Russian military will make certain improvements to the aircraft going forward.
Should Russia actually follow through with its current plans to purchase 76 Su-57s, its military will still trail far behind the US and its partners with respect to fifth-generation airpower. As of February, there were 360 F-35s operating from 16 bases in ten different countries, according to Bloomberg. The US also possesses 187 F-22s, arguably the best aircraft in the world.
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