SU-57 vs F-35: who will knock whom on the international market
The Sukhoi company, which is currently the largest Russian manufacturer of military aircraft, announced its plans for the mass sale of fifth-generation Su-57 fighters for export. In the annual report for 2019, this is explicitly stated.
Among the regions most “interested” in the supply of fifth-generation Russian stealth fighters, company representatives noted Southeast Asia and the entire Asia-Pacific region as a whole, as well as North African countries. And, probably, there is some justice in these words. However, we still don’t have to consider tens of billions of dollars more unearned - the competition in this market is expected to be fierce, and it’s far from the fact that Russia can take its rightful place in it.
First of all, let's state that not everything is all right with the Su-57 project. A rather complicated (and controversial, frankly speaking) scheme is currently being implemented, when Vladimir Putin promised to start serial deliveries of Su-57 for our army, and by 2028 three aviation regiments should “transfer” to this type of fighter, but the aircraft’s tests have not yet been completed. In fact, the Ministry of Defense will have to purchase fully untested vehicles that do not have a “second-stage engine”, that is, one that should be on production vehicles as designed by the developers. The aircraft’s armament has not been fully tested, but in this case it’s a very important point, because almost all types of “payload”, which is planned to be used on the Su-57, must be placed in the internal compartments of the aircraft and be able to start from there, and, under various conditions at different overloads and so on.
Yes, at the moment we know (according to the developers and the military) that the tests have entered the final phase. But at the same time, we remember that on December 24, 2019 near Khabarovsk one of the prototypes of the Su-57 crashed, on which the new engine was tested. Of course, such situations are not uncommon in aviation, it’s enough to recall at least a lot of accidents of varying severity when testing the American F-35. Nevertheless, this is always an occasion for a serious investigation and postponement of test flights. Do we have full confidence that in the future the tests of the new fighter will go smoothly, and the timing of its launch into mass production will never “shift to the right” again?
It is also not completely clear when the “second stage engine” for the Su-57 will be brought to mass production. "Product 30", as the designers themselves call it, is very impressive with its "paper" characteristics. In particular, fuel efficiency figures are called almost fantastically - about 670 grams. per kilogram-force per hour. This figure is almost three times lower than the engine of the American stealth fighter F-22. Which, on the one hand, fills our hearts with pride, and on the other hand, causes strong doubts about the reality of these figures. Add to this that a flat nozzle that can significantly reduce the visibility of the aircraft in the infrared range is also still under development. And while, in general, it is far from obvious that it will appear on the serial Su-57s.
But let's still try to be optimistic. Yes, with a high degree of probability it can be assumed that in the next 2-3 years, the Su-57 will gain its finished shape and join the army. Its undoubted advantages will be: good stealth, high versatility in terms of the volume of tasks, cruising supersonic, high quality on-board electronics and weapons. But will this give at least some guarantee of a successful export? Alas, everything is not as simple as the representatives of the Sukhoi company would like.
First of all, let's state: as a rule, export models of advanced equipment are made a little simpler and less deadly than what is supplied for their own army. Exceptions are possible, of course, but they are made only for the most trusted allies. Which, strictly speaking, we simply do not have now.
This is done for two reasons: firstly, that absolutely all the secrets of the novelty do not flow to a potential enemy, and secondly, that this weapon, in the worst case scenario, does not fight against ourselves. That is, we can assume that the export version of the Su-57 will be weaker than what is planned to be purchased for our army. This, of course, is far from a fact - in recent decades we have been famous for being almost completely open to our partners in the arms business, and some types of weapons were exported even before our own army was able to acquire them. But let's agree that this is a more or less plausible assumption.
At the same time, as mentioned above, the competition in this market is expected to be the highest. Moreover, in part, we have already lost it: the Americans, having come up with international integration for the F-35 project, involved many developed, most solvent states in the orbit of its creation (and, accordingly, purchases). That is, the market of Europe, Japan, Australia, Canada and some other states is virtually closed to the Su-57.
So far, only Turkey has dropped out of the list of countries participating in the creation of the F-35. Well, if tensions between Ankara and Washington continue, we will have theoretical chances to sell the Su-57s to the Turks. But still only theoretical: our own relations with this country are very complicated, and can become even worse due to the situation in Syria and Libya. In addition, there is some likelihood of Turkey joining the development of the South Korean fighter KIA KF-X, which she sells together with Indonesia. In this case, it is obvious that the Turks will prefer to purchase at least partially their own aircraft.
In general, I must say separately that now in the world several fifth-generation fighters are being actively developed at once. In addition to the well-known Chinese Chengdy J-20, which, strictly speaking, has already outstripped our Su-57 at least in terms of time, there is also the Japanese project X-2 Shinshin, which promises to be very interesting, there is the Korean-Indonesian fighter mentioned above, England is going to create your own Tempest, and even Iran surprised the world with its Qaher-313.
It should also be remembered that India, a traditional buyer of Russian weapons, refused to jointly develop a fifth-generation fighter with Russia. And even if she agreed, then usually her requirements are extremely overstated, and this concerns, first of all, technology transfer.
As a result, we get a much less wide geography of possible supplies than it might seem at first. First of all, we note that such large and traditional markets for us as Chinese and Indian are closed in this case. No, of course, China can buy from us a couple of Su-57 squadrons, but the purpose of such a purchase is clear in advance - the study of our machines in order to copy technological and design solutions. It is clear that we don’t really need this, so we don’t have to talk about it seriously.
The prospects for a new stealth fighter in the North African market look somewhat more serious. True, there are only two potential buyers: Egypt and Algeria. The rest, to be honest, will not pull such a purchase purely financially.
Egypt, although it has significantly diversified its arms purchases, may be very interested in strengthening its good Air Force due to a certain number of multi-purpose stealth fighters. Cairo has traditionally been faced with the task of containing Israel, which will soon rearm its Air Force on the F-35i, which means that it will be difficult for him to manage only fourth-generation aircraft. In addition, Egypt’s relations with Turkey have become more complicated, which is quite comparable with Israel in terms of combat power. Add to this the conflict with Ethiopia (so far diplomatic) over the construction of the last largest dam in Africa on the Blue Nile, and we will realize that this is a very real buyer. It remains only to convince the Egyptians that the Su-57 will live up to their expectations and will be combat-ready in the face of any possible challenges in this troubled region.
With Algeria, everything is much more complicated. Yes, this state is buying Russian military equipment, including Su-30 fighters. But I venture to say that for the coming decades this will be enough for him. The fact is that the Algerians' existing fleet is quite enough to confront their neighbors. He hardly plans to fight the countries of Europe on which his well-being critically depends. In general, the current Algerian army is more “imprisoned” under the confrontation with Islamic radicals, rather than under a great international conflict. And it is very doubtful that the existing security challenges will require Algeria to purchase such expensive fighters as the Su-57.
There are no more states in this region that would have purely financially mastered the purchase of a sufficiently noticeable batch of our new fighters. Neither Morocco, nor Tunisia, nor even Ethiopia with Eritrea and Sudan are attracted to potential buyers. Moreover, in the presence of relatively inexpensive and still very combat-ready alternatives of the fourth generation.
In Southeast Asia, the list of potential buyers is also small. At first glance, only Vietnam, which traditionally respects Russian weapons, can be attributed to them. His difficult relationship with China also adds weight to our speculation. Of the remaining states in the region that do not conduct any of their own developments, one can single out Malaysia, which has experience in the purchase and operation of Russian combat aircraft. In addition, the Malays have money, which is also important in this situation.
Speaking of money. We somehow ignored this issue. And he, meanwhile, is very important. The fact is that the available estimates of the cost of such a fighter as the Su-57 start from a figure of $ 100 million apiece. And many even talk about the price of 150-170 million. And if such estimates are correct, the circle of potential buyers of the new "drying" is rapidly narrowing. Despite the fact that a modern generation 4+ fighter can be purchased for $ 40-50 million, and such an acquisition will satisfy the needs of most likely buyers, convincing them to pay 2-3 times as much as the “stealth” is not very necessary against partisans or impoverished neighbors problematic. That is, the main competitor to the Su-57 may be the Su-35 of the same manufacturer. Which is not so bad for the Sukhoi company, but still it should reduce the pathos of reports about future victories.
Of course, other recipients of our deliveries are also possible. In particular, Iran is unlikely to cope with the program of creating a full-fledged stealth fighter, which means it will be very interested in buying a Su-57. True, in this case there are many political obstacles, but let's say they can be overcome.
But more, sorry, nothing is visible at all. And if we take a sober look at the situation, then with a high degree of probability we can say that at the moment we have only three potential buyers, and the total supply for them is unlikely to exceed a hundred pieces. At a price of 100 million per fighter, a good compensation of development costs will be obtained.
But, perhaps, nothing more. Although I really want to make cars so wrong at 200-300 ...