Russia’s Su-57 Stealth Fighter Completes Engine Upgrade and Continues Development Amid Business Concerns

Dec 22 2017 - 144 Comments
By Tom Demerly

Program Technically on Track, But Will Logistics and Finances Ground New Russian Superfighter?

Russia’s contribution to the 5th Generation of air combat super-fighters moved ahead tangibly in early December with the successful flight of the first Sukhoi Su-57 using its new, upgraded Izdeliye-30 turbofan engine.

The first successful test flight with an Su-57 using the new Izdeliye-30 took place on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The 17-minute test flight by Sukhoi chief test pilot Sergei Bogdan was launched from the M.M. Gromov flight test center, in Zhukovsky, Russia about 25 miles outside of Moscow.

The new engine replaces the former NPO Saturn Izdeliye 117, also referred to as the AL-41F1. These original Izdeliye 117s were reported to be underpowered for the Su-57s 55,116 pound reported take-off weight. The Izdeliye 117 was never meant as a permanent powerplant for the Su-57 and its use drew criticism, some of it unwarranted, from western analysts.

The developmental engines on the PAK-FA were a consistent source of criticism, especially following a sensational compressor stall incident at the MAKS 2011 airshow. (Photo: Rulexip via Wikipedia)

The new Izdeliye 30 engines increase the Su-57 thrust to 11,000 kg without afterburner and 19,000 kg in afterburner according to reports. The engines also have fewer components and resulting lower maintenance costs and reduced maintenance schedule. The engine is claimed to have better fuel economy. As with most modern Russian fighters, the Izdeliye 30 is a thrust-vectored engine and has supercruise capability, enabling the Su-57 to fly at supersonic speeds without afterburner achieving longer range and better fuel economy at high speeds. Claims for higher efficiency published by subject matter expert Piotr Bukowski suggest the new engines are “17 to 18 percent more efficient than the [older] 117 engines.” As Bukowski pointed out in his recently updated reference book on Russian aircraft, “Russia’s Warplanes, Volume 1”, there was no definition offered for the what the specifics of “more efficient” meant in terms of performance.

One area many analysts have missed in terms of advantages for the Su-57 is cost. The price tag of an Su-57 is quoted as approximately $54M USD. If accurate, those costs are roughly one-third to one half the cost of the two operational U.S. fifth generation fighters, the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. Perhaps even more significantly, the Su-57 is also half the cost of China’s unusual looking J-20 Mighty Dragon 5th gen. fighter. China is also testing the J-31 Gyrfalcon, a 5th generation aircraft more intended for export than the Chinese point-defense J-20. Oddly, there do not appear to be any accurate published estimates of cost for the J-31, likely due in part to the degree of Chinese state subsidy of the program for any prospective buyers, a number influenced heavily by diplomatic and commercial relationships with China.

The first flight of the re-engined Su-57 in low overcast from December 5. (Photo: UAC Russia)

There has been a consistent populist trend of “bashing” or somehow diminishing the capability and progress of the Su-57/PAK FA program in western media. Most western criticism of the Su-57 program has been centered on the logistics of the program and its lack of commercial export success. While those factors are real, they miss the key insight that the Su-57 could emerge as a highly capable Gen 5 fighter platform at a third the cost of its contemporaries. This lower-cost business model for Su-57 could facilitate the historical Russian penchant for subverting quality to quantity on the battlefield. Not to suggest that the Su-57 is somehow inferior to other 5th gen aircraft, it may not be, but if the financial capability to field twice as many Su-57s as F-35s exists, this numerical superiority represents an interesting strategic argument for the new Russian combat aircraft.

Top image credit: Sukhoi

  • In the F-22 it is, on the PAKFA, it isn’t.

    Even testing prototypes on the F-22 the assembly was replicating the final product.

    • Ilya Kurenkov

      Then please refer to T-50-11 and T-50-10, and not for the first flight article T-50-1.

  • Yet, somehow, PAKFA is still not stealthy, nor well built.

    • Ilya Kurenkov

      You deny reality.

  • Tomas Rodriguez

    After reading the comments of the “experts” rented by the US Establishment (not the wonderful ordinary American people) one must conclude that:

    “The US military arrogance is Russia and China’s most effective defensive weapon.”
    “Arrogance is the US military’s main weakness.”
    “The US Establishment is the mother of all narcissistic arrogances.

    Mark those words. Think about them. It may save the lives of many Americans doing their patriotic service.

    Just remember Vietnam! Just look into Afghanistan!

    And the stealth, google-scientists that here lecture Russia about stealth, just remember that:

    – Russians are not stupid.

    – They are very pragmatic. Not as practical as Americans; but close.

    – Russia plays chess, not checkers.

    – The US has stealth because of Soviet/Russian science.

    – The father of stealth is a Russian. He is also the father of anti-stealth.

    – Because of that, Russians know that stealth is only a mean with a limited future.

    The Soviets and now the Russians, create “soldier” aircraft, not divas. That’s why the most successful fighter in history, the MiG-21, is still the second most numerous fighter in service in the world, surpassed only by the F-16, a light fighter that, by the way, was inspired by the success of the MiG-21 in Vietnam, as were the Red Flag and Top Gun schools – still active despite the death of dogfighting.

    A quick real life anecdote.
    As any fresh out of school engineer, I was an arrogant barn-scientist, who once asked a Russian MiG-21 mechanic why the MiG-21 fuselage beautiful forward section was extraordinarily clean and after the cockpit the fuselage looked like it was built in a farm. His answer taught me a few lessons I never forgot. That “simple” mechanic said: “the whole nose is made of one piece (!!!), stamped from a big 5 mm plank of duralumin. The rest of the fuselage after the cockpit is made effective, but as cheap as practical. The reason is that the nose has to be very smooth inside for a non-turbulent flow to the engine. The outside has to be smooth to preserve a laminar flow and reduce drag. But after the cockpit there was no f*****g way to keep the flow laminar, no matter what you did. So why make it expensive and complicated only for the good looks? As you guessed, after that lesson in clever solutions, my arrogance deflated forever!

  • Tomas Rodriguez

    Those are your numbers and Hollywood facts. The most incontrovertible live facts are:

    -There are more certified Vietnamese aces than Americans. Those aces were third world peasants fighting a Goliath.
    – The Vietnamese pilots were astronomically outnumbered.
    – The USAF rushed to create Red Flag because its pilots could not outfight the Vietnamese fighters, not to avoid the AA
    defence systems.
    – Same with the Navy and Top Gun.
    – The MiG-21 was not designed as a fighter, but as a point defence interceptor (like the F-104 and the British Lightning),
    hence its short range.

    Who forgets History…………

    • Uniform223

      “Who forgets History…………”

      > You.

      “The most incontrovertible live facts are:”

      > though the North Vietnamese did have a smaller air force, more North Vietnamese aircraft were shot down by U.S. aircraft. North Vietnamese used their air force rather sparingly. The vast majority of U.S. aircraft lost in Vietnam was NOT to north Vietnamese fighters but to north Vietnamese ground fire; AAA, smalls arms, and SAM’s.

      Corroborating sources site there were 4 U.S. aces and 4 north Vietnamese aces. North Vietnamese pilots were very well trained by both Russian and Chinese programs.

      Red Flag was created after Vietnam because it was found that a pilot had a greater chance of surviving after their first 10 combat missions. If they could simulate combat as close as possible this would give a dramatic chance of surviving their first tour of duty. Many U.S. pilots in Vietnam actually lacked combat experience and proper fighter training and were often shot down in their first tour of duty. This is unlike the Korean War because a good portion of US fighter pilots were veterans of WW2.
      USN Fighter Weapons School was actually created during Vietnam Conflict/War and showed dramatic results. USN fighter crews who went through top gun had a kill ratio close to 8:1. USAF saw much of the same kill ratio throughout the war; 2:1 and even 1:1.

      Why is the Mig-21 is considered an intercept fighter while the F-4 is considered fighter even though it was designated by the USN (the first service to adopt it) considered it to be a fleet interceptor and fighter bomber. What is the main difference between the two to garner such disparity between the two even though they were both intercept aircraft by design, nature, and role?

      • Tomas Rodriguez

        Since you are not mature enough to know the célebre phrase of Jorge Santillana:
        “Those who ignore History are condemned to repeat it”, I think you have no personal memories of the Vietnam war events.

        Therefore, before engaging in en exercise in futility, I friendly recommend you a reading of your own source: Airpower History (magazine) from the 90’s. It will make for a valuable and honest read different from the Establihment’s uninformed narrative. Unfortunately, the times of honest “re”assessments are dead and gone. Today, anybody, like you and me, is a “historian”. Although I do it on my own. Also, if you subscribe as a member of the AF Historical Association you will contribute to preserving an invaluable source of the US heritage.

        You made statements that deserve clarification with facts. If, after consulting your American sources, you don,t reevaluate the post, then I,ll help you. My pleasure!

        • Tomas Rodriguez

          Dear Uninform, obviously you did not read your own source or, if you did, you did not like its truth. This thread is not actual anymore, so I’ll post a fresh one addressing your statements that differ from the historical facts. “Corroborating sources” can be even my grandson or even your own self. Thence your made up statistics.

  • Terror in the Sky , coming soon.

  • Black Eagle

    India may be unhappy just about the price, but everyone considering to acquire 5th generation fighter have to count that it will cost something. Moreover, India will not get just aircraft but also the technology know-how that no doubt will help them with the development of own future aircraft. They are still struggling with their 4th generation HAL Tejas, leave alone own 5th generation fighter, while China already launches serial production of the J-20 and soon J-31 about also Pakistan showed its interest.

    India can barely afford to leave the deal with Russians and wait another decade, not when stealth aircraft will operate in Asian region in full strength soon. Ultimately, the FGFA is based on India’s requirements so they will get just what they asked.

  • tipoo2

    Is the 54M cost anything close to a modern source, or was that the figure from years ago when they expected to buy and sell hundreds of these? With 9 delivered in the first batch, the cost per unit must be through the roof. And it seems the stealth shaping issues weren’t addressed even in the production models.