With six Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighters providing an escort to the presidential Ilyushin Il-96-300 VVIP transport, Vladimir Putin arrived in style on May 14 at the Valery Chkalov State Flight Test Center (GLITs) in Akhtubinsk, southern Russia, to inspect the base and talk to its personnel. On the next day he flew to Sochi to chair a meeting with the top military officials and defense industry leaders, during which decisions were taken to boost the planned order for the Su-57 to 76 aircraft, as well as to procure 100 Mi-28MN attack helicopters by 2028.
Speaking at the event, Putin said that in the 2013-2018 time frame the national armed forces had taken delivery of more than 1,000 new and modernized aircraft. Today, Russia’s Air and Space Force (VKS) possesses more than 3,000 aircraft in service with the Long-Range, Tactical and Army Aviation commands, of which over 60 percent are considered modern. “Our task is to continue the further development of combat aviation in an active manner, and to materialize all earlier plans on the deliveries of weapons and equipment to the armed forces, and on pilot training,” he stressed.
Commenting on multi-role fighters, Putin noted that the Su-35S and Su-57 are “now at the final phase of state acceptance trials”—meaning that their flight and weapons testing are not completed. However, these two types “feature unique performance and are considered the best in the world,” he observed.
An early edition of the State Weapons Program 2018-2027 called for 16 Su-57s. Following recent discussion on the matter, the Russian president voiced the need to increase the number to equip three air regiments. “As a result of the work done and as a result of our arrangements with the industry…we now have an opportunity to buy considerably more combat machines of that class and of that new generation,” Putin explained. In his words, the industry has managed to cut costs of deliverable aircraft and weapons, making it possible for a numerical increase within the budget allocated to the defense ministry. “And it is not all about numbers. The fact is that [the Su-57] makes use of a brand-new platform; we have not done anything like it for the last 40 years.” Apparently, he was making reference to the fact that the Su-30, Su-34 and Su-35S represent an evolutionary development path from the original Su-27.
So far, 10 Su-57 prototypes have been flown, comprising an initial production batch. Upon testing, some of them have been rebuilt to a production standard for still-pending delivery to the VKS. At ARMY’2018 the defense ministry awarded UAC a contract for two additional aircraft due for delivery in 2019-2020. It is likely that these airframes will not go to line units but be placed with various establishments specializing in weapons testing and crew training.
In a televised moment at GLITs, Putin asked Su-57 crews whether they like the aircraft, to which question one pilots responded; “The aircraft is still undergoing flight tests. Not everything has been tested,” while the other characterized the aircraft as, “a very good leap into the future”. “With your input, we shall make it the world’s best,” the president reacted. Head of the center General Radik Bariev said, “Personally, I have performed over 100 flights [in the Su-57] and want to fly more.”
A likely explanation to the somewhat ambiguous reaction came out in Putin’s address in Sochi, when he noted that, “the Syrian war experience has highlighted a number of shortcomings in our aircraft and helicopters deployed to the war theater, as well as their [air-launched] munitions. These would have been impossible to discover during testing at firing ranges.”