Russia’s massive offensive is about to form in the east and is piling up its military aircraft, including its Generation 5 Su-57 fighter jets, for a final blow, Western military and diplomatic officials have noted.
The intense and relentless actions toward Kupyansk, Krasniy Liman, Donetsk and South Donetsk were seen as a harbinger of the final blow as the war approaches its first anniversary on February 24.
Whether the accumulation of planes is a coercive measure to overwhelm and frighten the Ukrainian leadership, or will actually translate into an all-out land and air attack to capture the target area remains to be seen.
However, it is clear that Russia does not want the conflict to drag on, as the West has enforced its concept of the “Long War” by continuing to arm Ukraine. Long wars do not mean endless wars, especially those with set political goals.
The Su-57, which appears to have been deployed safely from Russian territory in Ukraine by RIA Novosti in a Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD/DEAD) operation in June 2022, hints at how it may be could be used in the event of such an offensive.
Do not use regularly
As the most modern fighter jet, Russia is unlikely to fly it in Ukrainian airspace, where it could become a target for Western surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems.
These are the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), the German IRIS-T and the powerful defense systems of Soviet origin S-300 and Buk.
A British Ministry of Defence (MoD) update of January said Russia feared “reputational damage, reduced export prospects and the disruption of sensitive technology that would result from a loss of the Su-57 Felon over Ukraine.”
The June 2022 operation, aimed at “identifying and destroying Ukrainian air defense systems with a flight of four Su-57 fighters”, “(combined) the aircraft in a single information space (which increased the efficiency of identifying and hitting targets increased).
The quartet is “connected to a single information network to destroy air defense systems through automatic communication systems, data transmission, navigation and identification in real time”.
A later report in TASS on the Su-57 receiving what appears to be artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI-ML) enabled sensor fusion and data linking was a logical next step in the fighter’s development.
The device provided “intelligent support to help the pilot make decisions under time pressure (and) to help pilots in a pair quickly (for tactical) tasks (such as) target distribution, selection of an attack trajectory, determination of the moment of missile launch (to) interact and the moments of interference with an enemy combatant.”
Su-57 missions were designed to test AI network systems and tactics
The Defense Ministry’s assessment added that the Su-57 missions “were limited to overflying Russian territory and firing long-range air-to-surface-to-air-to-air missiles into Ukraine.”
The Defense Ministry on Jan. 9 cited a satellite image dated Dec. 25 showing five criminals at Akhtubinsk air base in southern Russia, home to the 929th flight test center. Whether the planes are still on the base is not known, but the British Ministry of Defense rightly concludes that Russia will not use it on routine operations.
This is especially true given that the war was less air-force dominated, with heavy air-to-air combat, regular bombing raids and air supremacy operations. Its highlights were air denial, a ground grinding campaign, mechanized warfare, artillery duels, long-range missile strikes, and drone strikes.
Russia’s Su-35S, Su-30SM2 and MiG-35 are not only sufficient for the small air superiority and Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions, but also to compete with western jets like the Eurofighter Typhoon, F-16, F- 15, and possibly the F-35.
Russia would therefore only put the Su-57 into service if it clashes with fighters from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Image file: Russian Air Force Su-57
long-range missile attacks
The Su-57s will also not be deployed individually, as coordinated parallel ground offensives will take place simultaneously. It features two large internal weapons bays mounted in tandem between the engines and two side bays for short-range air-to-air missiles.
The ten internal and six external hardpoints can carry R-74M Archer and R-77M Adder air-to-air missiles (AAM); Kh-38M air-to-surface missiles; anti-ship missiles Kh-31AD and Kh-35U and; Anti-radiation missiles Kh-31PD and Kh-58UShK.
If there is a Russian offensive, we can expect the Su-57s to be used in long-range ground or airborne strikes on Ukrainian air defense systems and large military command and control structures in the next few days.
But even this information may only be available after several weeks, if not months, like the report on the SEAD/DEAD mission in June 2022.
But given that Moscow’s interest is in conquering the east and south, where infantry, tank and artillery battles are taking place, and shows no inclination towards western Ukraine or the capital Kiev, there is little reason for the Voenno-vozdushnye Trick Rossii (VVS or the Russian Air Force) to deploy the Su-57.
Operation June 2022 appears for testing purposes only, to validate systems and refine tactics.