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Russia’s Su-57 Stealth Fighter Is Destined to Fail

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper


All of the reasons the Su-57 is going nowhere fast.

Russia’s Su-57 Stealth Fighter Is Destined to Fail

Westerns analysts have concluded that Russia’s fifth-generation Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter is unlikely to enter operational service before 2027. Postponements, cost-overruns and research and development-related problems mar the project.

This should come as no surprise. The Su-57 program was never really viable.

Back in early 2006, Russian president Vladimir Putin integrated all of Russia’s aviation companies into a single, state-owned holding — the United Aircraft-building Corporation.

Over the time, UAC absorbed more than 20 aviation companies, and re-organized these into four aircraft-manufacturing divisions. One for combat aircraft, one for military transport aircraft, one for civilian aircraft and one for aircraft components.

In the course of the streamlining, most of the state-owned enterprises became joint-stock companies. However, the government owns at least 90 percent of shares.

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Despite the resulting centralized and vertical structure, most of enterprises integrated within UAC have retained some level of autonomy. MiG and Sukhoi both have their own board of directors.

However, with few exceptions, these directors have no say. On the contrary, the entire UAC conglomerate is subject to a board of 14 directors, most of them well-known associates of Putin. Few are skilled industrial managers.

Despite bombastic reports in the Russian media, UAC turned out to be a lame duck. The conglomerate proved capable of re-launching production of types designed back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Otherwise, UAC is incapable of innovation and adaptation.

The main reason is that most of UAC’s directors are hand-picked yes-sayers — people more than happy to discuss planning, strategies and new projects, but lacking the ability to make hard decisions. Unsurprisingly, over the last 10 years UAC has made promises it cannot fulfill,

In the case of the Su-57, UAC’s crucial failure was the early decision to close its Combat Aircraft Division to foreign investors. The first director of the consortium, former deputy minister of defense and later prime minister Sergey Ivanov, insisted back in 2006 that Russia “plans to develop this sector on its own.”

Combined with the dramatic collapse of the Russian economy in the wake of Western economic sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the inflexibility of UAC made the Su-57 impossible to realize. No matter how large or populated, a country with GDP comparable to that of Australia cannot afford to play at being a superpower, fight a protracted war in Syria and develop its own stealth fighter.

The last hope for the project was the serious Indian interest in financing the conversion of the Su-57 into a stealth strike fighter in the class of the Su-30MKI. But the management structures Putin imposed undermined that collaboration.

Of course, the Kremlin’s core interest in the Su-57 is scoring big propaganda points by creating a supposed match for Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor. This is something the business-minded Indian air force is not keen to finance.

And that means the Su-57 is going nowhere fast.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here

Image: Creative Commomns/Flickr. 

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