- Russia’s Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet first debuted a decade ago.
- But Russia has struggled to develop the jet and put it into production.
- Russian officials now say that an upgraded Su-57 made its debut flight this month.
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Since it was officially unveiled more than a decade ago, Moscow has touted the capabilities of its fifth-generation Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter as exceeding those of even the United States Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
However, Russia has struggled with the development of the Su-57 (NATO reporting name “Felon”) in recent years, and just 10 test prototypes and six serially produced aircraft have been produced — of which two have been lost in crashes during test flights.
Despite those setbacks, the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), a subsidiary of the state-owned tech conglomerate Rostec, has continued the fighter’s development — and this week announced that an upgraded Su-57 made its debut flight earlier this month.
“The Sukhoi Design Bureau within the UAC carries out work for further developing the Su-57,” the UAC press office said via a statement to Tass. “On October 21, the upgraded Su-57 fifth-generation plane performed its debut flight at the Gromov Flight Testing Institute’s airfield. The aircraft was flown by the Sukhoi Design Bureau test pilot, Hero of Russia Sergey Bogdan. The flight lasted 56 minutes and ran without any snags.”
According to the reports, the improved Su-57M fighter jet was testing onboard equipment with extended functionality, as well as the crew’s AI support, along with a broad range of new types of weapons.
“The aircraft also offers a possibility to install a second-stage engine,” the statement added. The codename for this initiative is believed to be “Megapolis,” while the current Su-57 research and development were dubbed “Stolitsa” (“capital”).
There have been reports that the most significant aspect of this upgrade is the installation of new “izdeliye 30” engines, which can provide a thrust of around 16 tonnes in place of the current AL-41F-1 (izdeliye 117) engines that can provide a thrust of 14.5 tonnes.
An AI copilot?
One of the notable features of the Su-57 is the artificial intelligence (AI) technology, which could act as a virtual co-pilot, gather data from the aircraft’s numerous sensors, and provide crucial information to the human operator.
AI has been seen as a crucial component of the future “sixth-generation” fighters, where onboard computer clusters that are composed of high-performance ruggedized processors could transform these aircraft into data centers in the sky.
This could help ensure faster decision-making for the pilots.
“AI is already an integral part of modern fighter jets,” said technology industry analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics.
“To be more maneuverable, modern jets are inherently unstable in flight,” Entner told 19FortyFive. “The only way they fly straight is through AI. Next-generation AI will take their active role even further to improve survivability and mission capabilities.”
Of course, the issue is how Russia — which is struggling to keep its current military hardware equipped with the latest microprocessors — will be able to mass produce such aircraft.
There have already been reports that the Kremlin has had to resort to taking chips from consumer appliances to use in its tanks and other vehicles. It may thus take a highly advanced AI to help Moscow figure out how to solve this problem.
A senior editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a 20-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a contributing writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.