Year’s Final Batch of Su-57 Fifth Generation Fighters Completed After Production Successfully Doubled

The Russian Defence Ministry on December 27 received the final batch of Su-57 fifth generation fighters completed in 2023, with 12 aircraft reportedly produced this year at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Plant. This represents a successful doubling of production compared to 2022 when just six aircraft were delivered, and brings the total fleet size up to 22 aircraft. The state run United Aircraft Corporation reported at the time that initiatives in 2023 intended to refine the Su-57’s assembly line had helped to bolster production, with output raised and bottlenecks across the manufacturing cycle resolved. This affected not just the final assembly workshop, but the entire production process. Key to this has been the addressing of issues with the supply of high-tech components from supplier plants and exploring of options for refinement of assembly technologies. United Aircraft Corporation CEO Yuri Slyusar drew particular attention to the ongoing modernisation at production facilities, and in 2024 several key structures are expected to become operational which will better facilitate future prospective technical overhaul projects related to the Su-57 program. 

The Russian Air Force received its first Su-57 fighter in 2020, followed by three more in 2021 and six more in 2022, bringing the fleet size up to ten fighters by the beginning of 2023. A significant further expansion of production is expected to eventually facilitate deliveries at over 20 per year which will allow the fleet to reach 76 aircraft in 2027 while leaving room for exports. Algeria is widely reported by multiple sources to have already placed orders. The Russian aircraft’s production scale will neverthless remain dwarfed not only by the much smaller American F-35 single engine fighter, which is in production in three major variants for over a dozen clients at a rate of over 140 aircraft per year, but also by the heavyweight Chinese J-20 twin engine fighter which, although being produced exclusively for domestic use, is expected to see production exceed 120 aircraft in 2024. The Russian Air Force was initially expected to begin receiving Su-57s before 2012, with this later delayed to 2015 at which point it was expected 50 aircraft would be in service by 2020 and 200 by 2025. Delays follow the total collapse of Russia’s previous fifth generation fighter program the MiG 1.42, which began development in the late 1970s and was considerably more ambitious for its time.

Despite significant delays to its development the Su-57’s deployment for operations in Ukraine has made the Russian Air Force the only service in the world with experience operating fifth generation fighters in high intensity combat. Combat deployments have been very widely reported since March 2022, with reported  roles for the Su-57 having included strikes, air defence suppression, supporting electronic warfare efforts, and even beyond visual range air to air combat. More recent reports indicate that the aircraft’s powerful sensor suite integrating six AESA radars and an infrared sensor have also allowed it to serve as a highly valuable airborne early warning and control platform sharing data with friendly assets in the theatre. A report in January 2023 by the British Defence Ministry confirmed that Su-57s were “launching long range air to surface or air to air missiles into Ukraine” and had done so “since at least June 2022,” with the British conservative outlet The Conversation subsequently reporting in mid-February that Su-57s were engaging Ukraine aircraft with beyond visual range missiles. With the first full strength unit expected to be formed in early 2024, much regarding the future of the Su-57 program including how widely it will be produced, where and by which services it will be deployed, and when production will transition to the enhanced Su-57M variant, all remain uncertain.