Looks Like Russia Has Just Deployed Two Of Its Brand New Su-57 Stealth Jets To Syria

Quite surprisingly, Russia sent two of its Su-57 stealth jets to Syria. So, once again, Moscow will use the Syrian Air War as a test bed for its most advanced “hardware”. But the deployment is both an opportunity and a risk.

Late on Feb. 21, a photo showing two Russian Su-57 jets allegedly landing at Khemimim air base, near Latakia, in northwestern Syria, circulated on Twitter. The two stealth combat aircraft were reportedly part of a larger package of assets deployed to the Russian airbase in Syria, that included also four Su-35S and one A-50U AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft.

Interestingly, the aircraft appeared to be in “clean” configuration, that is to say they didn’t carry the large fuel tanks used for ferry flights last year.

Although the deployment of two Russian 5th generation aircraft (that has not been officially confirmed yet) came somehow unexpected, it must be noted that it’s not the first time that Moscow deployed some of its advanced “hardware” to Syria. For instance, on Sept. 13, 2017, the Russian Air Force deployed some of its MiG-29SMT multirole combat aircraft to Khemimim airbase for the first time. Previously, in February 2016, it was the turn of the still-in-development Tu-214R spyplane to exploit the air war in Syria to test its sensor packages.

As reported several times commenting the above mentioned deployments, Russia has used the Syrian Air War to showcase and test its latest weapons systems. However, most analysts agree that the deployment of the Su-57 is probably mostly meant to send a strong message about air superiority over Syria, where Russian and American planes have almost clashed quite a few times recently (with conflicting reports of the incidents).

Deploying two new stealth jet in theater is a pretty smart move for diplomatic and marketing purposes: as already explained questions continue to surround the Su-57 program as a consequence of delays, engine problems and subsequent difficult export (last year the Indian Air Force reportedly demanded an end to the joint Indo-Russian stealth fighter project). Albeit rather symbolic, the deployment of a combat aircraft (still under development) is obviously also a huge risk.

First, there’s a risk of being hit (on the ground or during a mission: the attack on Latakia airbase or the recent downing of a Su-25 are just reminders of what may happen over there) and second, there’s a risk of leaking intelligence data to the enemy.

This is what we explained in a recent article about the reasons why U.S. and Russia are shadow-boxing over Syria:

USAF Lt. Col. Pickart’s remarks about the Russians “deliberately testing or baiting us” are indicative of a force managing interactions to collect sensor, intelligence and capability “order of battle”. This intelligence is especially relevant from the current Syrian conflict as it affords both the Russians and the U.S. with the opportunity to operate their latest combat aircraft in close proximity to gauge their real-world sensor capabilities and tactical vulnerabilities, as well as learn doctrine. It is likely the incidents occurring now over Syria, and the intelligence gleaned from them, will be poured over in detail for years to come.

For instance, we have often explained how Raptors act as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft” over Syria, providing escort to strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness. In fact, the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy, performing ELINT-like missions and then sharing the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

In fact, even though it’s safe to assume that the stealth prototype will not use their radar and that the Russians will escort the Su-57s with Su-30/35 Flanker derivatives during their trips over Syria in order to prevent the U.S. spyplanes from being able to “characterize” the Su-57’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done by the Russians with the U.S. F-22s, it’s safe to assume the U.S. and NATO will put in place a significant effort to gather any little detail about the performance and operational capabilities of the new Russian stealth jet.

By the way, before you ask, the risk of confrontation with their U.S. stealth counterparts has not been mentioned, since it seems quite unlikely at the moment..

Top image credit: Aleksandr Markin – T-50 (51), CC BY-SA 2.0

About David Cenciotti 4469 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

17 Comments

    • Well I don’t know lol I think they ran out of football related words starting with F, unless they’d call it the Fumble, which…in light of the F35, I don’t think they want to go there.

    • I’ve been wondering about that.. Got the F part right but has to be just two syllables. Err.. my guesses Fang/Flexfire, or for laughs Flimflam, Fixfast, Furfake

      • Whatever , do you know anything about aircraft design , aerospace technology, etc? Do you know how many testing that was done with SU-57?

    • I like fogger (fog for hard to find) for this plane but already have taken (similar) .. My guess for RUS F (fighter) NATO SU57 .. “Flattail” (al moving vertical fins) or “fastbirth” do already on combat fields :)

  1. “a pretty smart move for diplomatic and marketing purposes”.

    I challenge that.

    Had this been a marketing exercise, Russian state media would have instead brought notice of this deployment days well in advance (just like the Kuznetsov around a year ago). But no such thing happened.

    We only first got ear of this when they were directly over Khmeimim air base from Hussaini, a random twitter account. State media only caught on several hours later. Given that only military digests like yours will ever really cover these sort of events in detail, minimal discretion better describes this deployment.

    They may have a “clean” configuration, but the Russians aren’t stupid. They’re more than aware of the dense radar coverage above Syria. They’re more than likely to have the equivalent to luneberg lenses on those birds.

    Whether or not they’re there to actually drop munitions is anybody’s guess, but I doubt it. Probably there to test how certain sub-systems fare in a hotter climate.

    It’s not uncommon to see Russians testing pre-serial airframes in a combat ready environment. Su-25s were flying in and out of Afghanistan as early as 1980, and Su-34s in the South Ossetian conflict.

  2. Is it possible that Russia sent them there because they found out F-22 and F-35I totally outclassed their Su-30s, Su-34s and Su-35s? Probably. Doesn’t matter. These Su-57s are just as outclassed. Target practice for LM 5th Generation.

  3. To me this seems like a rather bold and foolish PR stunt. The PAKFA isn’t nearly as finished as Sukhoi and Russian military would have people believe. What could they be possibly trying to do if not advertise it?
    The double standard around this astounds me. The F-22 was in IOC back in 2005 and reached FOC in 2007 but didn’t see combat until 2014. When that happened people were claiming that it was a mere PR stunt. The USMC’s F-35B reached IOC in 2015 with the USAF F-35A reaching IOC in 2016. Before that the F-35s went through numerous developmental and operational testing. Yet when USMC F-35s went to Japan and USAF F-35s went to Europe, people were claiming it as PR stunt. Now here we have the PAKFA. Not as tested or as mature as F-35 and yet people are claiming the PAKFA to be ready for combat already…

    https://i2.wp.com/dougwils.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Double-Standards.png

      • Im not sorry that I actually have standards and hold other aircraft from other countries to the SAME STANDARD.
        No reporting about any advanced development efforts (weapons testing, radar, avionics, etc) or operational testing. All I’m ever able to find is display demos at airshows. New paint jobs. India’s lack of faith in the program and general displeasure of the of the platform itself. A test flight with one engine. Video of ground firing its gun in a mockup cut out. Anything else I find is conjecture and unsubstantiated claims in comment sections and forums.

        Show a video of aerial weapons release or weapon fitting of its internal weapons bay. Show me a link where pilots go to a range and talk about how it’s radar works. Show me an interview where a pilot talks about how the avionics package and systems changes the way they will fight.

    • How using them for a payback on Israel? If they dare to use F-35’s then they could be flying into another trap.
      So it would keep the F -35’s at home…

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