Su-57 vs F-22 :
The F-22 and Russian Su-57 are two smaller and in many ways less successful next generation programs that have also entered fighters into service, alongside China’s J-20 and the American F-35, which are currently the only fifth generation fighters in the world both in production and fielded at squadron level strength. Despite the fact that both aircraft are operational, neither has had a long production run, with the F-22’s manufacturing ending less than four years after it joined the Air Force and the Su-57’s serial production beginning only in 2018.
Neither aircraft benefits from critical next-generation characteristics like distributed aperture systems and top-tier network-centric combat capabilities found in the J-20 and F-35. The Su-57, on the other hand, has a number of major advantages over the F-22, including considerably modern and longer-ranged air-to-air missiles, higher manoeuvrability, the use of six radars rather than one, and the ability to fly without a radar signature using an infrared sensor.
Beyond air to air combat, the Su-57’s advantages are much more pronounced due to its less specialised design, as the F-22 was originally designed without air to ground capabilities and is still unable to deploy standoff air to ground weapons due to the shallowness of its missile bays, even after modernization. The Su-57, on the other hand, was built from the ground up to be capable of strike, anti-shipping, and electronic attack missions in addition to air-to-air combat.
The Su-57‘s enhanced versatility stems in part from the Soviet era, when all fighters pursued from the late 1980s had a multirole capacity, including the ability to fire beyond visual range air-to-ground missiles. This featured the F-22’s direct competitor, the MiG 1.42, which was set to enter service in the late 1990s or early 2000s when the Soviet collapse halted and eventually ended the highly ambitious development effort.
Another reason was that the F-22 was designed to be deployed alongside strike-capable aircraft, most notably the F-35, which was created under the aptly titled Joint Strike Fighter programme and had a significantly lower air-to-air capabilities but was better suited to air-to-ground and electronic attack tasks.
In contrast to the MiG 1.42, the Su-57 was designed without a lightweight equivalent to fly alongside it, requiring it to be capable of performing all missions. As a result, whereas the F-22 can only carry small gravity bombs, the Su-57 can carry a variety of cruise missiles with ranges in the hundreds of kilometres, as well as nuclear weapons and future hypersonic ballistic missiles, which began flight testing in February 2021.
Because of the F-22’s limitations, it did not see combat for nine years after entering service before being deployed in September 2014 for primarily symbolic missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the time, it was widely acknowledged that aircraft with reduced maintenance costs, such as F-16s, could have done significantly more cost efficiently. While the F-22’s advanced stealth capabilities would make it an ideal strike fighter against well-defended targets if it could strike beyond optical ranges, the fact that it must fly relatively close to its targets to engage effectively negates the stealth benefits.
Due to its potential to perform very long-range cruise missile strikes, the Su-57 experienced combat before before entering service, with prototypes sent to Syria in February 2018 to support Syrian government counterinsurgency efforts. Following multiple deployments to Khmeimim Airbase in western Syria, the Su-57 was sent to Ukraine in March 2022, where it took part in strikes against Ukrainian government forces.
Whereas Russian combat jets have given Ukrainian air defences a wide berth, making it impossible to drop gravity bombs, the ability to fire cruise missiles like the Kh-59MK2 gives the aircraft significantly more flexibility. The missile was designed as a primary air-to-ground weapon for the Su-57 and is optimised for neutralising tiny hardened targets at extraordinary ranges of near to 300 kilometres.
It was initially tested in Syria. While new air-to-ground weapons are unlikely for the F-22, the Su-57’s arsenal, combined with its unmatched endurance, makes it a potentially world-leading strike fighter, allowing for a much larger production run than would have been possible if it had been designed solely for air superiority like the F-22.
This has ramifications not only for Russian orders, but also for international interest in the fighter and the regularity with which Russian and foreign units will be able to participate in combat operations, as air-to-ground operations continue to outnumber air-to-air operations.