By Bijan Razzaghi
The Russian Air Force has deployed their SU-57 Stealth Fighters to Syria as of February 23rd 2018. It is believed the two fighters landed at Latakia Air Force base, which has been the primary Russian Air Base in Syria since the initial Russian deployment in 2015. The SU-57 just became operational this year and is still undergoing operational test. It is possible the deployment is a show of force to demonstrate Russia’s technological advances, or a move to consolidate air superiority in the wake of the recent battle between Wagner Group and the US backed Kurdish forces.
The SU-57 if fully operational offers a wide range of capabilities to the Russian Air Force in Syria. The SU-57s low observable design could make the aircraft undetectable on radar, in addition the SU-57s heat signature would also be reduced making it difficult for infra guided weapon systems such as MANPADs or Sidewinders to track them. The SU-57 also is a highly maneuverable aircraft being able to outmaneuver most NATO fighters and possibly match the F-22 Raptor in a visual engagement. This is in part because of the aircrafts 3D thrust vectoring nozzles and high thrust to weight ratio of 1.12. This allows for even two SU-57s to make a huge difference in Russia’s attempt to gain air superiority over Syria.
The SU-57 could also be used to conduct stealthy ground attack missions against American allies such as the SDF. Previously Russian and Syrian aircraft would be detected on radar and intercepted by F-22s, or Navy F/A-18Es. This time it would be hard for allied air forces to detect the SU-57s which poses a serious threat to SDF forces and US Special Operations Forces. Although the SU-57 is stealth effective ISR can track their movements around Latakia.
The SU-57 poses a significant threat if Russia has deployed them for combat operations, yet with only two in country Russia’s ability to project air superiority or conduct stealthy strike missions are limited. The SU-57s can also be matched by the US Air Forces F-22 or the F-35 which is operated by the US and Israel. This is also the first time that an adversary has deployed fifth generation platforms in the same area of operation.