New facilities at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Plant in Russia’s Far East have been opened in preparation for an expansion of the production of Su-57 next generation fighters, which have been in low rate serial production since 2018 and of which 70 are currently on order. An avionics test facility, a fuel dock and an engine test station were among the new facilities construction as part of expansion, with first deputy general director of Rostec Vladimir Artyakov elaborating: “UAC is fulfilling a large state contract: the Ministry of Defense needs to take delivery of 76 Su-57 fighters in the next few years. To produce the required number of aircraft with the required quality and on schedule, we have undertaken the expansion and modernisation of the production facilities. Already in the second half of 2023, the new facilities of the KNAAZ flight test station should receive the first aircraft.” Production facilities were first seen in August 2020, showing a much higher finishing quality and superior stealth capabilities than individually built prototypes and revealing the use of advanced technologies including virtual reality glasses. Nevertheless, the ability of Russian and other competing industries to keep up with the high tech production methods used in Chinese and American fighter programs, which currently lead the field in key technologies, has been brought to question.
Six Su-57s have been delivered to the Russian Air Force, with these having participated in hostilities in Ukraine including in strike and air defence suppression roles . The fighter represents a direct successor to the Su-27 Flanker, which when first delivered to the Soviet Air Force in 1984 was considered by far the most capable in any air force worldwide. Russia’s economic decline and the contraction of its tech sector and industrial base after the Soviet collapse delayed the induction of the first fifth generation fighter squadron by decades, with the USSR having been expected to field such aircraft around 2003 but Russia having yet to form a single full unit. Expansion of production, however, could allow the Su-57 to be built at a similar or even greater rate than the Su-35, which is currently Russia’s most capable fighter for air to air combat and has been produced at a rate of around 12-14 per year. This would still be far smaller than China’s production of over 30 J-20 fifth generation fighters annually, or America’s production of over of the much lighter F-35s at over 140 annually, but could increase significantly further as fourth generation fighters such as the Su-30SM2, Su-34 and Su-35 are phased out of production.
The Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Plant previously produced Su-27s in the Soviet Union, including units delivered to China, and in 1997 transitioned to manufacture Su-30 fighters heavily customised to meet Chinese requirements. This continued until the mid 2000s culminating in the Su-30MK2, R&D work for which was heavily funded by the client, after which the aircraft was successfully marketed abroad widely from Vietnam to Venezuela. After producing the first Su-30s for the Russian Air Force, the Su-30M2, the plant again transitioned in 2010 to manufacture Su-35s which began to enter service in 2014. Opening Su-57 production means the plant is currently manufacturing two fighter classes in parallel, although the Su-35 is expected to be phased out of production possibly around 2027 to accommodate even more productive capacity for the Su-57. The latest expansion of facilities comes come work continues on a range of new technologies for the Su-57, with revolutionary new Saturn 30 engines expected to be integrated before 2025 while a range of hypersonic and electromagnetic weapons and improved new avionics are also currently under development. The fighter already has several unique key features such as laser defences, the use of sextuple radars, and an extreme endurance and degree of manoeuvrability, which provide important advantages over competitors.