Two fifth-generation fighter planes designed and manufactured by the United States — the F-22 and the F-35 — are widely believed to be the most powerful in the world for their ability to stealthily deliver deadly payloads on target.
But Russia is looking to make its fifth-gen Su-57 even more powerful.
As reported by The National Interest, Moscow’s weapons designers are destined to mate the Su-57, which is cutting edge aircraft technology, with equally cutting edge hypersonic missile technology, giving the aircraft substantially more power than either U.S. jet in terms of survivable, deliverable weapons systems.
Russian state media outlet Tass reported that the defense ministry plans to integrate its hypersonic weapon, the Kinzhal, on the Su-57.
“In accordance with Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027, Su-57 jet fighters will be equipped with hypersonic missiles. The jet fighters will receive missiles with characteristics similar to that of the Kinzhal missiles, but with inter-body placement and smaller size,” a defense industry insider told the newswire.
The notion of adding hypersonic missiles, which truly are game-changers, to the Su-57 was first broached by Boris Obnosov, who is the general director of the Tactical Missiles Corporation (KTRV).
He said: “In perspective, we can certainly anticipate this [hypersonic] weaponry over the following decade. Everything will come in due time for the Su-57, likely including hypersonic weapons.”
The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal is capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads to targets at speeds of up to Mach 5-6.
Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced it, essentially, during a state-of-the-state speech in early 2018.
“The missile flying at a hypersonic speed, 10 times faster than the speed of sound, can also maneuver at all phases of its flight trajectory, which also allows it to overcome all existing and, I think, prospective anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, delivering nuclear and conventional warheads in a range of over 2,000 kilometers,” he said.
In short, the Kinzhal cannot be defended against, at least not with existing missile defense systems, quite literally because the counter-missiles are not fast enough.
One major setback for the Russians is trying to figure out how to fit the Kinzhal onto the Su-57 in a way that maintains the aircraft’s stealth capabilities. As of this report, there is no public confirmation that Russian designers have managed to overcome that obstacle.
Now, if by “characteristics similar to that of the Kinzhal missiles” Russian designers mean a smaller version of the Kinzhal, that could work, but then would a smaller weapon retain the same range and pack the same punch? And again, there’s still the question of radar cross-section — and cost.
As The National Interest noted, however, other Russian platforms have already tested the Kinzhal, and others are being modfied to carry it:
Kinzhal was first demonstrated with the MiG-31K supersonic fighter, an iteration of the MiG-31 designed for the new hypersonic missile. In a similar vein, the Tu-22M3 has been modified from the base Tupolev Tu-22M to carry four Kinzhal missiles. Whereas these two aircraft were modified to accommodate the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, it is a noteworthy departure that the Kh-47M2 is reportedly being modified to accommodate the Su-57.
The U.S. Air Force is speeding development of its own hypersonic missile design, and China has reportedly tested one as well.