Despite China having already developed its own fifth generation fighter for its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force – the first country other than the United States to do so – the Russian state conglomerate for arms exports Rostec has indicated it is highly optimistic that the PLA could be a leading client for its own next generation platform. The director for international cooperation and regional policy Viktor Kladov stated in regards to a potential Chinese acquisition: “China has recently taken delivery of 24 Su-35 aircraft, and in the next two years will make a decision to either procure additional Su-35s, build the Su-35 within China, or to buy a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. This could be another opportunity for the Su-57E.” While further exports of the Su-35 are highly unlikely given the capabilities of the China’s indigenous J-11D, its own analogue which is in many ways superior, an assessment of the capabilities of the more advanced Su-57 indicates that it could fill a complementary role to the indigenous J-20 – integrating many advanced technologies which are unique to the design and which currently serving Chinese jets lack. These include three dimensional thrust vectoring systems in their most advanced form yet, a large ten-missile internal weapons payload, the ability to blind infrared guided missiles with unique Directional Infrared Countermeasures Systems, and access to a number of specialised munitions including the K-77 and R-37M long range air-to-air missiles, Drel guided stealth bombs and Kh-47M2 hypersonic ballistic missiles among others.
China’s Navy’ in particular could have a strong interest in a maritime strike variant of the Su-57, with the aircraft’s high endurance and compatibility with long range ship hunting hypersonic ballistic missiles providing a unique combination. With China’s J-20 poorly suited to carrier operations, a navalised Su-57 reportedly currently under development could also seriously enhance the capabilities of future Chinese carrier air wings – a more capable alternative to enhanced ‘4++ generation’ variants of the J-15. Offers of technology transfers to China’s own defence sector should it purchase the Su-57, with technologies such as the Directional Infrared Countermeasures Systems and Kh-37M missiles potentially of high value if integrated onto Chinese jets such as the J-31. Chinese acquisition of the Su-57 thus remains a considerable possibility.
The first party to show interest in the Su-57, India entered into the joint Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) in 2007 to develop a variant of the fighter specialised to suit its defence needs – which would integrate a number of indigenous technologies developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). While it was reported by the Economic Times of India that the country had left the FGFA program in 2018 – a report widely picked up by a wide range of Western sources which claimed this represented the final nail in the coffin of Russia’s next generation fighter ambitions – the report was later refuted by Indian officials who stated that FGFA was still ongoing. With negotiations reportedly stalling however, the possibility has also been raised that the Indian Air Force could purchase the Su-57 from Russia directly without joint development and without the complex requirements for indigenous technologies. India remains highly likely to acquire the Su-57, most probably in considerable numbers, though whether this will be in the form of the FGFA joint program or a simpler purchase remains to be seen. India has been a leading client for all major Russian and Soviet fighter designs since the early 1960s, from the MIG-21, MiG-23 and MiG-25 to the MiG-29 and Su-30MKI among others. Russian fighters currently form the backbone of India’s Air Force with plans to deploy over 300 of the Su-30MKI – India’s most advanced fighter to date. With the fifth generation fleet of neighbouring China fast growing, and with neighbouring Pakistan likely to acquire its first fifth generation fighters in the 2020s – albeit lightweight single engine platforms developed with China under Project AZM, the Su-57 will provide India with a significant capability advantage over its neighbours. Much like the highly versatile Su-30MKI today, used in roles from bombing to ship hunting, AWACS hunting and air superiority, the Su-57 will be able to excel in a number of roles required by the Indian Air Force including delivery of hypersonic nuclear ballistic missiles, air superiority and penetration of enemy air defences – with a large acquisition set to bring about a major shift in the balance of power in the air
Algeria is unique among major Russian defence clients for its secrecy regarding future and existing arms purchases, with its acquisitions typically remaining rumours until they enter service and are leaked on film. With an annual defence budget of over $10 billion, Algeria has maintained by far the most modern and by some estimates the most capable military in Africa overwhelmingly through its reliance on Russian weapons systems. The unpredicted but devastating European led NATO bombing campaign against neighbouring Libya has led to a major focus in Algerian investments towards enhancing its aerial warfare capabilities and maritime anti access area denial capabilities in order to deter a potential Western attack. This has included purchases of the S-400 and Pantsir-SM air defence systems among others and, according to some reports, orders for Su-35 air superiority fighters to augment the large existing fleet of Su-30MKA jets. Like India, Algeria has operated all major Russian and Soviet fighter since the 1960s, though it retains no legacy aircraft in service and has retired older platforms such as the MiG-21 and MiG-23 in favour of newer fourth generation jets. Acquisition of the Su-57 at some stage remains highly likely, either to replace existing jets or as part of an expansion of the Air Force. Should the country’s economy remain in its current downturn, the latter option remains unlikely meaning the next generation fighters may only be acquired when the Su-30MKA begins to be phased out – likely not before the 2030s. Nevertheless, with European powers increasingly looking to acquire sixth generation capabilities and some purchasing fifth generation jets from the United States, an earlier acquisition may be deemed necessary. The fighter would provide Algeria with a powerful deterrent against a Western attack, with its Kh-47M2 hypersonic missiles placing airbases and command centres across Europe in its range while its advanced air to air capabilities will likely outperform anything in European inventories for the foreseeable future.
Reports first emerged in mid 2017 in Vietnamese paper Dat Viet that the country’s armed forces planned the acquisition of 12-24 Su-57 fighters from 2030-2035, likely to replace part of the country’s existing fleet of Su-27 and Su-30 jets which currently form three of the country’s four Air Force regiments alongside a single regiment of Su-22M3 and M4 strike fighters. Further reports to this effect emerged in early January 2019. Vietnam is a leading client for Soviet and Russian hardware dating back to the Cold War, with the MiG-21 forming the mainstay of the North Vietnamese fleet during the Vietnam War and the MiG-23 acquired subsequently to balance the power of neighbouring China. Vietnam has since deployed a smaller but far more elite Air Force which prioritised high end specialised combat jets such as the Su-27 rather than lightweight multirole jets such as the MiG-29 – which it never acquired. This and the country’s fast growing economy makes a Su-57 acquisition highly likely – with the heavy fighter serving as a direct successor to the Su-27 and Su-30 with many capabilities which could be highly valued by Vietnam’s Air Force. With Vietnam currently outmatched qualitatively in the air by the latest air superiority fighters of the Chinese PLA Air Force such as the J-20, Su-35 and upcoming J-11D, acquisition of the Su-57 is perhaps the only effective means of retaining some for of qualitative parity in light of China’s rapid fleet modernisation. With Vietnam’s primary retaliator assets, its arsenal of Scud ballistic missiles and Su-22 strike fighters, all fast ageing, the Su-57 could also provide an effective means of replacing them to seriously strengthen the country’s deterrent capabilities. The high endurance fifth generation fighter equipped either with Kh-47M2 hypersonic ballistic missiles or lighter cruise missiles could provide both a retaliatory capability against enemy airbases and military facilities or a highly potent ship hunter – with the Kh-47M2 able to disable any existing surface ship with a single direct hit at extreme ranges. A Vietnamese acquisition of the Su-57 remains highly likely, though whether this will occur in the 2020s remains to be seen.
Turkish acquisition of the Su-57 remains highly uncertain, as unlike other potential clients it is a longstanding client for Western combat aircraft and a member of NATO. Nevertheless, Turkey has shown an increasingly willingness to look to non Western sources when U.S. and European sources fail to provide systems of comparable quality – with acquisition of the S-400 air defence system and large purchases of the South Korean K2 Black Panther battle tanks being leading examples. Ankara’s allegations that Western powers were involved in supporting a failed military coup against its government in 2016, and continued support for anti government organisations such as the ‘Gulenists’ and Kurdish nationalist militias in neighbouring countries have all further soured relations. Threats by the United States to terminate Turkey’s partnership in the F-35 fighter program and impose economic sanctions over its acquisition of the Russian S-400 system is likely to lead the country to turn to other sources for its fighters – with Russia’s Su-57 begin a leading option. The opportunity for a purchase has been repeatedly highlighted by Turkish media since mid 2018, and while production of fighter components in Turkey on a similar scale to the F-35 remains unlikely the Su-57 provides a number of superior capabilities to the lightweight American single engine jet. Alongside massive superiority in endurance, speed, altitude, payload and manoeuvrability, these include access to more advanced and longer ranged missies for air to air, air to ground roles and ship hunting roles and integration of unique technologies such as the Directional Infrared Countermeasures Systems – which is particularly valued in the Middle Eastern theatre where infra red guided MANPADS are widely used by a number of militant and terrorist groups. America’s restrictions on F-35 software to provide Turkey with a ‘downgraded version’ to ensure Israeli superiority has furthered the appeal of the Su-57 as an alternative – which would provide the country with by far the most capable air superiority fighter in the Middle East. Turkish acquisition of the Su-57, however, would likely further alienate its NATO allies which Ankara has gone to some lengths to avoid – and the country will most likely seek to maintain ties to the Western Bloc with minimal penalties for its S-400 purchase unless further provoked.
SOURCE : militarywatchmagazine.com