Despite China having already developed its own fifth generation fighter for its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force – the first country other than the United States to do so – the Russian state conglomerate for arms exports Rostec has indicated it is highly optimistic that the PLA could be a leading client for its own next generation platform.
The director for international cooperation and regional policy Viktor Kladov stated in regards to a potential Chinese acquisition: “China has recently taken delivery of 24 Su-35 aircraft, and in the next two years will make a decision to either procure additional Su-35s, build the Su-35 within China, or to buy a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. This could be another opportunity for the Su-57E.”
While further exports of the Su-35 are highly unlikely given the capabilities of the China’s indigenous J-11D, its own analogue which is in many ways superior, an assessment of the capabilities of the more advanced Su-57 indicates that it could fill a complementary role to the indigenous J-20 – integrating many advanced technologies which are unique to the design and which currently serving Chinese jets lack.
These include three dimensional thrust vectoring systems in their most advanced form yet, a large ten-missile internal weapons payload, the ability to blind infrared guided missiles with unique Directional Infrared Countermeasures Systems, and access to a number of specialised munitions including the K-77 and R-37M long range air-to-air missiles, Drel guided stealth bombs and Kh-47M2 hypersonic ballistic missiles among others.
China’s Navy’ in particular could have a strong interest in a maritime strike variant of the Su-57, with the aircraft’s high endurance and compatibility with long range ship hunting hypersonic ballistic missiles providing a unique combination. With China’s J-20 poorly suited to carrier operations, a navalised Su-57 reportedly currently under development could also seriously enhance the capabilities of future Chinese carrier air wings – a more capable alternative to enhanced ‘4++ generation’ variants of the J-15.
Offers of technology transfers to China’s own defence sector should it purchase the Su-57, with technologies such as the Directional Infrared Countermeasures Systems and Kh-37M missiles potentially of high value if integrated onto Chinese jets such as the J-31. Chinese acquisition of the Su-57 thus remains a considerable possibility.
The first party to show interest in the Su-57, India entered into the joint Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) in 2007 to develop a variant of the fighter specialised to suit its defence needs – which would integrate a number of indigenous technologies developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
While it was reported by the Economic Times of India that the country had left the FGFA program in 2018 – a report widely picked up by a wide range of Western sources which claimed this represented the final nail in the coffin of Russia’s next generation fighter ambitions – the report was later refuted by Indian officials who stated that FGFA was still ongoing. With negotiations reportedly stalling however, the possibility has also been raised that the Indian Air Force could purchase the Su-57 from Russia directly without joint development and without the complex requirements for indigenous technologies.
India remains highly likely to acquire the Su-57, most probably in considerable numbers, though whether this will be in the form of the FGFA joint program or a simpler purchase remains to be seen. India has been a leading client for all major Russian and Soviet fighter designs since the early 1960s, from the MIG-21, MiG-23 and MiG-25 to the MiG-29 and Su-30MKI among others.
Russian fighters currently form the backbone of India’s Air Force with plans to deploy over 300 of the Su-30MKI – India’s most advanced fighter to date. With the fifth generation fleet of neighbouring China fast growing, and with neighbouring Pakistan likely to acquire its first fifth generation fighters in the 2020s – albeit lightweight single engine platforms developed with China under Project AZM, the Su-57 will provide India with a significant capability advantage over its neighbours.
Much like the highly versatile Su-30MKI today, used in roles from bombing to ship hunting, AWACS hunting and air superiority, the Su-57 will be able to excel in a number of roles required by the Indian Air Force including delivery of hypersonic nuclear ballistic missiles, air superiority and penetration of enemy air defences – with a large acquisition set to bring about a major shift in the balance of power in the air
Source: Defence View