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 4453 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 four books.

17 Comments

  1. F-22 Pilot 1 – “Hey whats that?”
    F-22 Pilot 2 – “Well its not one of ours. Is that the PAKFA we’ve been hearing so much about?”
    F-22 Pilot 1 – “It could be. I though it was supposed to be stealthy? Oh well… I guess not. Record it and send it to command”

    PAKFA Pilot 1 – “Hey whats that?”
    PAKFA Pilot 2 – “I don’t know. Probably just a bird”
    PAKFA Pilot 1 – “Oh well… I bet those American pilots don’t know we’re here or else they would have done something by now”
    PAKFA Pilot 2 – “Stupid Americans… hey! turn off your radar!”
    PAKFA Pilot 1 – “What radar?”
    PAKFA Pilot 2 – “Something is tracking and painting us!”
    PAKFA Pilot 1 – “OH S**T! Do you think its that F-22 we’ve heard so much about?”
    PAKFA Pilot 2 – “I don’t know but lets get out of here!”

  2. not going to get into how good this aircraft is or isn’t but damn the russians make gorgeous looking fighter aircraft!!

  3. I’ve heard people asking; “Where are the Luneburg Lens?” I’d say – Why would they need one?

    • True. They don’t claim to be invisible like the F-22/35/B-2! That proves how much the Russian baddies ignore of the Physics and Marhematics that make possible the stealth techniques. Which is stupid because, even I, downloaded the famous Report from the Web. Go figure!

  4. Seems like an extremely unwise decision. To me it borders with irrationality. You do not send a “green”, super secret weapon into the bad guys hands. The hunt for this aircraft will be epic, and all dirty tricks will be used to bring one down. The risks overwhelm many fold the minimal possible gains. This is Poker, not chess. Thumbs down, Russian Establishment. The border between temerity and stupidity is a very thin line, easily blurred by confidence. Overconfidence is an unforgivable miscalculation.

    Sending an experimental aircraft to experiment in a war is an experiment with disaster.

    Hitler was sure that he would have taken Moscow in six weeks or so. He could not, and his overconfidence cost him the war.

    The intelligent man learns from his mistakes. The wise man learns from other people’s mistakes.

    • “Sending an experimental aircraft to experiment in a war is an experiment with disaster.”
      Only when aircraft in question is F-111.

      • When and where? Libya? Vietnam? Nobody has done this in my lifetime, as far as I recall. I am not concerned about the aircraft being still reaching puberty; my criticism is about the return for the risks taken.

        Look at it this way: when you cross a street on a red light, run to beat the fast approaching cars and reach the opposite side safely, what were the bets? Win, 12 seconds. Loss, your life. Not even the most addicted gambler in the world would bet with such odds!

        This move is not a blind gamble, but it’s still a gamble, since Russia does not control the odds.

    • It is better to be bold to test them in a real war zone senario than to test them in safe environment to discover later their performance didn’t conform with expectations.
      Read or google about the F-35s break down in real exercises in Japan.” Cowards die many tim3s before their death , the vailant never taste of death but ounce”.

  5. Regardless of the speculation the way fighter aircraft manufactures sell aircraft is to put them in a combat environment so they can be declared battle tested. Not going to be giving up any house secrets. Know as an air-superiority fighter wonder if it will be tasked to drop ordinances or just use for intelligence gathering?

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