Russia has deployed fifth-generation Sukhoi-57 stealth fighters in Russia’s Khmeimim air base in Syria. The Su-57 is Russia's most sophisticated military jet and is the first Russian military fighter to use stealth technology.
Khmeimim came under fire earlier this year leaving a number of Russian aircraft stationed at the base damaged. Moscow claimed that rebels bombed the planes using weaponized drones, but analysts have cast doubts on these claims.
Vladimir Gutenov, Chairman of the Military Industry Committee in the Russian parliament, said that the presence of Su-57 fighter jets in Syria would reinvigorate the country's deterrence power against intruding warplanes of certain neighboring countries that had been violating Syria's airspace.
Designed by Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi, the Su-57, a fifth-generation stealth, single-seat, twin-engine jet multirole fighter aircraft designed for air superiority and attack operations. It contains a number of deadly weapons, paired with state-of-the-art stealth technology. The fighter jet also boasts airborne active phased array radar, allowing it to deter air, ground and naval targets from a distance.
It is fitted with a revolutionary avionics system capable of autonomous calculations of the battlefield dynamics to assist the pilot. The fighter jet is also equipped with airborne active phased-array radar, which allows it to "see" air, ground, and naval targets at distances far beyond most modern systems.
While the Su-57 is still in its developmental phases, these particular examples that have been deployed to Syria are likely full-equipped airframes fitted with operationally representative avionics.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the jets were scheduled to be introduced to Russian forces in 2018, and a total of 12 aircraft were initially ordered by the Russian government.
Once in full service – expected next year – it will be capable of striking the enemy with a variety of modern weapons, including short-, medium- and long-range air-to-air, air-to-ground, and special anti-radar missiles.
There are several explanations for the deployment of the Su-57 to Syria:
A response to the US deployment of F-22s to the region: The deployment comes on the heels of the United States employing the F-22 stealth fighter, in strikes against targets in Syria after the February 7, 2018, attack against US-backed forces by pro-Syrian government troops that also included Russian mercenaries.
In December 2017, two F-22s intercepted two Russian aircraft that had flown east of the "de-confliction line" that is supposed to separate Russian and US-led coalition aircraft operating over Syria. The US jets fired warning flares during the interception of the two Russian Su-25 jets, after they crossed the de-confliction line multiple times.
Syria as a testing site for new weapons: Russia is using the Syrian theater as an opportunity to test new weapons. Syria, to a large extent, has been used to prove out new Russian weapons and it is likely no different for the Su-57.
Several advanced arms systems were first tested in combat conditions in Syria: Ka-52 attack helicopters, cruise missiles launched from naval platforms, S-300, S-400 and SA-22 surface-to-air missile systems, MQ-1 surveillance drones, T-90 tanks and Electronic Warfare systems.
Russia’s response to Israel’s air offensive on February 10, 2018, which targeted the shared Russian-Iranian T-4 airbase near Palmyra as well as Syrian air defense batteries, and destroyed IRGC forward command centers in Syria, after downing an Iranian drone.
A Russian response to the challenge for Israel’s newly acquired fifth-generation US F-35 combat aircraft: The deployment of the Su-57 in Syria can potentially increase the level of danger to US and Israeli fighter jets operating in Syria and has the effect of reducing IAF's freedom of action over Syria and Lebanon.
The latest deployment of the Su-57 is likely to send a warning to countries such as the United States, Turkey, and Israel against intervention in Syria. The deployment is largely symbolic but is indicative of Russia's intentions.