new weapons are often rushed to the front and pressed into service before they have been properly tested. There is little choice, and any operational edge can be critical on the battlefield. The Russian Federation, however, is not fighting a war at present – just a low-intensity conflict in Syria, where its aircraft are indiscriminately bombing rebel enclaves, killing hundreds of civilians weekly. It is beating them into submission so the ground forces of its protégé, President Bashar Assad, and his proxy allies can eventually regain territory.
There is no military justification for Russia to deploy its most advanced and – so far at least – nonoperational stealth fighter jet to Syria. And yet last week Russia sent four Sukhoi Su-57s to its Khmeimim air base in Syria.
The Su-57 first flew eight years ago, in January 2010. And just like other new weapons systems, its development has been long and arduous. From all available information, only 10 flyable prototypes have been produced so far, and deliveries to Sukhoi’s main customer – the Russian Air Force – have yet to take place. With an aerodynamic shape and coated in radar-absorbent materials that greatly reduce its radar cross-section, it is intended to be the first stealth fighter in Russian service.
So why has Moscow taken the unprecedented step of sending four of its valuable prototypes to Syria, disrupting the flight-test program, even before the Su-57 reached initial operational capability (IOC)?