The highly advanced Russia's Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet was sent to Syria last week. This will increase the level of threat to the US forces operating inside the country.
The Sukhoi Su-57 is the stealth, single-seat, twin-engine jet multirole fighter aircraft designed for air superiority and attack operations. The aircraft is the product of the PAK FA - "Prospective Aviation Complex of Frontline Aviation”, a fifth-generation fighter programme of the Russian Air Force. The Su-57 will be the first aircraft in Russian military service to use stealth technology. Intended as the Russian answer to the US military's Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, this fifth-generation stealth fighter is designed to overwhelm both air and ground targets while eluding radar.
The fighter jet has been in development since 2001 and in-flight tests since 2010. Now its capabilities are to be measured against top-of-the-line western stealth jets in Syria.
It could be Russia’s response to Israel’s air offensive on Feb. 10, which targeted the shared Russian-Iranian T-4 air base near Palmyra and smashed four Iranian Revolutionary Guards forward command centres in Syria, after downing an Iranian drone. It is also seen in Moscow as a challenge for Israel’s newly acquired fifth-generation US F-35 combat aircraft.
“Last week, the Russian Defence Ministry reportedly moved four Su-57s, which have been built for trials, to Khmeimim Airbase in Syria. The deployment was seemingly confirmed by Israeli satellite images and footage taken from the ground, but neither the Russian military nor the producer of the advanced warplane would comment on the move,” Russian Times reported.
“The aircraft have been sent to Syria to test their capabilities in a semi-combat environment,” the Russian business daily Kommersant reported, citing insider sources. “The trial will initially focus on electronic warfare and radar capabilities of the 5th-generation fighter jet, rather than its weapons systems,” the report said. “A decision on the Syrian trial was taken after the MAKS 2017 airshow near Moscow in July,” the source revealed.
Analyst Igor Korotchenko told state news agency RIA Novosti that the “main objective of the Su-57s would be to test their radar systems on real targets in the skies above Syria, including the US military's F-22 and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II, which is in deployment by Israel.”
The advanced fighter jets were deployed to Syria less than two weeks after US forces attacked and devastated a group of pro-government forces, which included some Russian citizens. Moscow insisted that none of the Russians hurt in the incident were part of the country’s military force in Syria.
The stealth fighter will finish testing and enter production in 2019, Kommersant reported. According to the deputy defence minister Yury Borisov, “12 planes have been built for testing, and two of these could enter service with the military already in 2018.” In addition to the Su-57s, Russia also deployed four advanced Su-36s fighter jets last week, and an A-50U airborne early warning and control plane.
Justin Bronk, a combat aircraft expert at the Royal United Services Institute said the Su-57s in Syria were a “double-edged sword.” Not only will Russia scope out the US’s stealth fighters, but their presence in Syria would “give the US a chance to see how the F-22s respond” to Russia’s new jet and “allow western aircraft time to collect signals intelligence on what those radars are doing.”
Our assessment is that the Su-57 will in the near future act as an air deterrent to both the US and Israel. We believe that the objective to display advanced technology in Syria is reflective of Russia’s commitment to President Asad. Russia could definitely use the Syrian theatre to master its anti-stealth techniques and derive some tactical advantage with the US F22.