Ukrainian Drones May Have Hit A Second Su-57 Stealth Fighter

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It’s increasingly clear a Ukrainian drone badly damaged, and possibly destroyed, a Russian air force Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter in a Saturday raid on Russia’s Akhtubinsk State Flight Test Center in southern Russia 365 miles from the Russia-Ukraine border.

And it’s possible a second Su-57—out of around two dozen Su-57s the Russian air force has acquired since the type’s first flight in 2010—was also damaged in the raid. “There is preliminary information that there could be two Su-57 aircraft affected,” Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian intelligence agency, said in a Sunday interview.

It’s a credible claim, even if photographic evidence has yet to emerge. The Russian air force concentrates many of its best in-development warplanes at the Akhtubinsk State Flight Test Center, including new Sukhoi Su-35 fighters, Okhotnik drones and—of course—Su-57s, which are Russia’s answer to America’s Lockheed Martin F-22 stealth fighters.

As recently as 2019, there were at least six twin-engine, supersonic Su-57s at Akhtubinsk. Ground crews routinely parked the radar-evading jets out in the open—eliciting a bitter protest from the Fighterbomber Telegram channel, a popular forum for Russian airmen and their boosters.

Fighterbomber asked why, 28 months into Russia’s wider war on Ukraine, the air force hasn’t built hardened shelters for its most precious aircraft—including the Su-57 that Fighterbomber itself confirmed suffered shrapnel damage during the Saturday drone raid.

“For the price of this Su-57 alone, shelters … could be built,” Fighterbomber pointed out. But only “if you don’t bully [the contractors] along the way and don’t give out kickbacks.”

A shortage of reinforced aircraft shelters isn’t a uniquely Russian problem. The Ukrainians also have a bad habit of occasionally parking their warplanes out in the open at airfields within range of Russia’s Lancet drones.

But the Ukrainians strike Russian airfields more effectively than the Russians strike Ukrainian airfields—thanks in large part to Ukraine’s growing inventory of long-range strike drones and the relative sluggishness of Russian decision-making.

Ukrainian air force commanders frequently, sometimes more than once a day, scatter their jets across a vast network of small airfields and even highway airstrips—all in a preemptive effort to complicate Russian raids on parked planes.

Russian air force commanders do no such thing. When Russian jets change bases, it’s usually the result of a long-planned move—often in response to particular bases repeatedly coming under attack by Ukrainian rockets or drones.

In any event, Akhtubinsk is special. “With its airfield, laboratories, vast testing areas, shooting ranges and intriguing new bunker complexes, Akhtubinsk’s State Flight Test Center … has become one of the most valuable assets for the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense,” Dutch plane-tracking website Scramble noted.

The Su-57s at the base are there because it’s the best, perhaps only, site that can test the jets’ unique stealth qualities.

The Russian air force might not be able to move the surviving Su-57s from Akhtubinsk without jeopardizing the type’s development. But if it appreciates the danger Ukrainian drones represent to the Su-57s—and to all Russian warplanes—the air force might want to heed Fighterbomber’s advice, and build some shelters.

Millions of Ukrainians who have suffered under indiscriminate Russian air raids since 2022 are surely hoping the Russian air force doesn’t heed that sound advice.

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1. RBC:

2. Fighterbomber:

3. Scramble:

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