Russia's Su-57 fighter. Photo: Twitter

Warplane designers with the People’s Liberation Army were impressed by the unique concepts in Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57, according to Chinese papers, and eager to compare notes on the design and maintenance of each other’s fifth-generation fighter jets.

The Su-57 is a multi-role stealth fighter intended to succeed the MiG-29 and Su-27. It is comparable to China’s J-20 and the US’ F-22.

Still, the Su-57 is not usually considered a genuine fifth-generation jet because of its “substandard” stealth capability, which puts it at a significant disadvantage against Chinese and US counterparts, according to some observers.

Some Chinese analysts believe the J-20 has scored a win in the race to develop and deploy stealth fighters, so priority should be given to buying and emulating more advanced Russian warplanes like the Su-35.

But Wang Yongqing, chief designer of Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute under the State-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China, argued that the Su-57 could still inspire Chinese engineers with its innovative aerodynamic design and thrust vectoring control.

Stealth capability took a backseat when designers of the Su-57 accorded strong importance to supersonic cruise and super-maneuverability to evade beyond-visual-range missiles from an adversary during a dogfight or aerial sortie.

With long-range missiles evaded, the final showdown between a Su-57 and a rival would eventually take place at close range where super-maneuverability, not stealth capability, would determine which side would have an upper hand and air superiority, according to Wang.

Side-facing radar

Another unique design is the world’s first side-facing radars in addition to the conventional front-facing ones. Combined with other radars and infrared sensors, the Su-57 is expected to find enemy stealth aircraft quite early-on.

Comments in the Chinese papers on the Su-57 hinted that China may also look to procure the fighter. South Korea, Vietnam, India, Brazil and Turkey have also been tipped as prospective buyers.

Russia has played up the SU-57’s capabilities, as well as its lower price compared to the US F-35. The Russian-made jet is two and a half times cheaper than the F-35 or F-22.

“The plane has proven to be very good, including in Syria, where it confirmed its performance and combat capabilities,” Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said on Russian television in early 2018, The Diplomat reported.

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