Su-57 enhancements focus on engine and C2 functionality
Development and production of the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter remains one of the most complex and top-priority tasks for the Russian aviation industry.
It is interesting, therefore, that Russian media reports new modifications are already being developed for the aircraft.
The Su-57 has still not been introduced into service and the first serial-production aircraft crashed on 24 December 2019 during a test flight, presumably due to a failure in its control system.
However, as early as 2018 an R&D programme called Megapolis was underway to develop the ‘second stage’ Su-57. Russian state-controlled newspaper Izvestia claims the first flight of upgraded fighter is planned for mid-2022, and the tests are scheduled to be completed in 2024.
No cost details have been disclosed for this project.
The enhanced Su-57 will be powered by new Izdelie 30 engines, which offer higher performance than the existing AL-41F1. The Izdelie 30 is equipped with a new serrated nozzle that is designed to reduce the aircraft's radar signature. Without this feature, the Su-57 would not fully meet the criteria for a fifth-generation fighter.
Izdelie 30 has been in Su-57 flight trials since 2017 at the earliest. With the new engine, the Su-57 will be able to achieve supersonic speed without the use of afterburners, reducing fuel consumption and extending the engine's lifespan.
Electric motors will replace hydraulic drives for control surfaces on the Su-57. This will further improve aircraft maneuverability and reduce its radar cross-section.
In addition, Russian sources say, the Su-57 will receive updated onboard electronics: new multifunction screens, a wide-angle collimator sight and a panoramic HUD. All these features will allow fighter pilots to receive more information and react to threats faster and more efficiently.
New weaponry will include air-to-surface guided ammunition, which is under development.
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The Su-57 upgrade uses a method that is common among Western programmes but rarely applied in Russia. This strategy is arguably inevitable in the modern world, as the pace of the development of electronic components has accelerated, while it takes at least 10 years to develop a new aircraft: this means that many components of the aircraft are simply outdated by the time of full-rate production.
Digital components solve this problem: they are simple to replace, without requiring complex aircraft modifications.
Operational thinking is also evolving: in June 2020, TASS reported that a Su-57 flew as a C2 vehicle for a group of Su-35S fighters. Data was communicated between these aircraft and this information was then processed by the integrated weapon system aboard each aircraft.
This concept of operation may be useful given the rather small batch of Su-57s ordered: 76 are to be delivered to the Russian Aerospace Forces by 2027. This quantity is sufficient for the Su-57 to operate as C2 support for the less advanced and cheaper Su-35S and Su-30SM.
In this case, the stealthy Su-57 would not need to use its own radar, which should allow the aircraft to operate much more efficiently.
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