The new missile has a much more compact body than the original X-101/102 and is suitable for tactical aviation units, while providing a very long flight range, mainly due to the use of a new smaller bypass turbojet engine. Although some estimates put the range of the X-101/102 in excess of 5,500 kilometers, international analysts are convinced that this number is certainly no less than 3,500 kilometers. The combat range of the Su-57 is more than twice that of the US fifth-generation F-35 and F-22 fighters, and is expected to be significantly extended by the introduction of Saturn 30 engines in the second half of the decade. In combination with the new missile, this will allow it to hit targets previously inaccessible to tactical aviation units.
Since the first Su-57 combat unit will be based in the Far East, and the Pacific region is gradually becoming a priority for the Russian military, a key potential target will be the US military facilities on the islands of Guam and Hawaii. Their role in projecting American power in East Asia is growing not only because of Washington’s “pivot to Asia” initiative launched in early 2010, but also because facilities closer to the Asian mainland (especially in Korea and Japan), are considered increasingly vulnerable to the strike capabilities of China and North Korea. Due to the increasing vulnerability of Guam facilities and their critical importance to America’s ability to wage war in the region, the US military is building approximately 20 new facilities to air defense of the territory.
Since ballistic missile strikes are considered a major defense concern, a radar-invisible cruise missile would allow Russia to escalate its pressure. Bases in the Russian Far East would allow the Su-57 to be within strike range of Guam without refueling, while bases closer to Cape Dezhnev would also put the facilities in Hawaii within strike range.
The integration of strategic cruise missiles has important implications for the prospect of expanding the Su-57 fleet. A total of over 250 units are expected to enter service in the country. According to very conservative estimates, the first three squadrons will be ready for operation by 2027. Production is expected to reach 12 aircraft per year in 2023 and exceed 20 aircraft per year by 2027. As these machines will become the basis of the country’s combat fleet , Russia’s tactical aviation units will have the opportunity to be rearmed for strategic strikes at close intercontinental distances. Operating over the Pacific Ocean outside of Alaskan airspace, the fighters, supported by air-to-air refueling capabilities, will be able to keep targets in the continental United States, including vital industrial facilities in California, within range. While strategic bombers were already capable of this, fighters would be deployed in much greater numbers and from a much wider range of bases.
Finally, they do not require long runways and have much more modest maintenance requirements. The combination of low airfield requirements and the presence of a cruise missile is unprecedented for the Su-57. Its entire design emphasizes the importance of low maintenance requirements and high readiness to avoid the complexity pitfalls that greatly reduce the combat readiness of America’s fifth-generation fighters. The Su-57’s stealth is another important factor that severely limits the ability to warn American targets of a potential missile attack.
The original X-101/102 missile has undergone extensive combat testing against targets in both Syria and Ukraine. The Su-57’s precision beyond visual strike capabilities has also been tested in multiple operations in both countries, including air defense suppression missions in Ukraine. The integration of the new cruise missile increases the air-to-ground strike range by more than ten times compared to the X-59MK2 that the fighter used in previous battles, thus giving the Su-57 the longest strike range of any tactical fighter aircraft in the world. This, in turn, will have serious consequences for its use: in the future it will be able to replace part of the Russian bombers.
The problem posed by the new strategic strike capabilities of this class could be greatly exacerbated if the new miniature cruise missiles are offered for export to foreign customers. Algeria has reportedly already ordered Su-57s, and the cruise missiles, if acquired, would allow the country’s air force to strike key targets across much of Europe from deep in Africa.
The ability to strike at ultra-long ranges using radar-invisible cruise missiles is a key means of offsetting the Su-57’s shortcomings, particularly its lower level of stealth compared to its Chinese and American counterparts. Development of other types of air-to-ground weapons to engage targets beyond line of sight, including a ballistic missile for fighter jets, is reportedly already underway.