It has now been confirmed that social media reports about two fifth-generation Sukhoi-57 stealth fighters landing Monday, Feb. 19 at Russia’s Syrian air base are correct. Along with this duo, Four Su-35 fighters, Four Su-25 strike aircraft and an A-50U radar command-and-control platform (which has already made previous appearances in the Syrian theater of war) arrived as well, as shown in the below video from Khemimim air base, near Latakia, in northwestern Syria.
F-22 Stealth Jets and Russian Su-35S Flankers have already been Shadow Boxing Over Syria for a while now, so this gamble by Putin can be understood as raising the stakes in the intelligence war following the devastating US attack on Russian mercenaries in the Euphrates a while ago, given the fact that F-22 jets participated in that bombing during Feb. 9 this year. The SU-57 could be used to spy, and test its innovative radar arrangement on the F-22. Russia tested ‘over 200 new weapons’ in Syria during the war, and it most likely wants to market the Su-57, which is still a prototype, as having been ‘combat-tested’ in a ‘real battlefield’.
The F-22 is less maneuverable then its Russian opponent and has smaller weapon bays. On the other hand, the SU-57 has a radar cross section of about 0.1 square meters – far less stealthy then the F-22’s 0.0001 square meters. Its engines are not positioned in a stealthy manner and have no thermal sleeves to reduce heat signature. In fact, the platform’s final engines are still under development and won’t be available before 2025. For homeland airspace defense purposes, rear-aspect stealth is less important than other aspects and other locations, thus should theoretically suffice for defending Russia against intruders from western Europe in a future war.
However the Syrian theater of war is much different, saturated with American air bases (with their respective electronic technology) and borders Israel which boasts very sophisticated electronic warfare gear, as demonstrated a while ago by the downing of the Iranian stealth drone which took off from the Iranian-Russian airbase T4 near Palmyra, which was attacked by the Israelis shortly thereafter).
The Israeli ULTRA Radar, introduced in 2015, is capable of detecting stealth targets from hundreds of kilometers away. In any case all stealth jets are susceptible to detection by low frequency radars and will have to rely on additional electronic warfare measures to suppress such radars. The F-35I ‘Adir’, recently deployed by the Israeli Air force, is the only variant of the F-35 platform that has proprietary Israeli electronic warfare systems,external jamming pod and radar installed on it, given the assumption that the platform’s indigenous stealth properties will be overcome in a decade at the most, and cannot be exclusively relied upon to avoid detection.
All in all, the Syrian civil war has already been used to test multiple combat platforms by all parties involved, under the rather lame excuse of “fighting terrorism”, much like the Spanish civil war in the 1930s was used by the Soviets and the Nazis to test combat platforms towards WWII. The results of this stealth conflict in Syria remain to be seen in future conflicts between world powers.