Reports have indicated that Russia’s armed forces are currently conducting tests of sixth generation fighter technologies on Su-57 next generation air superiority airframes. With the Russian Air Force planning to induct the Su-57 in greater numbers from the late 2020s or early 2030s as a sixth generation fighter, at point time the platform will enter mass production, testing of next generation technologies on the advanced new aircraft will, if successful, bring the platform closer to entry into service in large numbers. The Russian Air Force has expressed considerably less interest in acquiring a fifth generation variant of the aircraft in large numbers, having confidence in its existing ”˜4++ generation’ designs such as the Su-35 and MiG-35 and as a result seeing little need for early variants of the new stealth aircraft. The successful development of sixth generation technologies which will truly set the fighter apart from platforms such as the Su-35 and fifth generation aircraft such as the American F-22 Raptor are key to facilitating orders in future and allowing the program to reach its full potential.
The Russian military’s intention to develop the Su-57 to contest air superiority in the sixth generation was first revealed in 2017 - though what technologies have been tested so far and which will be tested in future remain uncertain. While the military is highly confident in the platform’s capabilities as a fifth generation fighter, with Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov stating that “today the Su-57 is considered to be one of the best aircrafts produced in the world,” when equipped with sixth generation systems such as laser weapons, hypersonic missiles and new generation engines it will be a considerably more formidable asset.These systems unlikely to be ready for integration onto the Su-57 airframes for active service for a decade or more. Until that time the fighter will continue to be produced in small numbers for the Russian Air Force to accustom the service to operating the next generation air frame, providing a small fleet of fifth generation fighters which are unlikely to be relied on heavily for combat. The ability to test fully functional airframes for a decade before mass production begins is a potentially invaluable opportunity which will ensure that when the platform enters service as a sixth generation aircraft it will be at its optimal performance. Sixth generation technologies tested may also be used on other upcoming platforms such as the MiG-41 interceptor.