Connect with us


Su-57’s Hypersonic Anti-Ship Missiles Could Make it Attractive for China’s Navy; Stealth Jets Potentially Lethal in Maritime Strike Role




Amid reports that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could be interested in acquiring Russian Su-57 air superiority fighters, the potential roles these high end combat jets could play in Chinese service have been cause for much speculation.

Su-57 Fifth Generation Fighter

The fact that China’s indigenous analogue to the Su-57, the Chengdu J-20, has preceded it by several years into mass production and is itself highly capable in air to air combat, has limited the potential uses the PLA Air Force could have for the Russian jet. However, the fact that the Su-57 retains a number of capabilities which the J-20 lacks could well see it fulfil a complementary role alongside the Chinese platform. In particular, the Su-57’s design appears to be far better suited to both maritime strike, strike and AWACS hunting roles where the J-20, being more specialised in air to air combat, is somewhat lacking.

Su-57 Fifth Generation Fighter

China’s induction of a Russian air superiority platform modified for a maritime strike role to complement the capabilities of existing air superiority jets of the same generation is far from unprecedented. While the PLA Air Force already fielded Russian fourth generation air superiority fighters, a number of variants of the Su-27, in the mid-late 1990s – the PLA Navy sought to acquire the Su-30MKK for a maritime strike role. Although the Su-30MKK made use of an almost identical air superiority airframe to the Su-27, and the indigenous J-11B which has neared operational readiness at the time, the Russian air superiority design was altered and equipped for maritime dominance. The fighters were modified to integrate additional fuel tanks and aerial refuelling capabilities, allowing them to better operate in a maritime strike role against distant targets. Their radar warning receivers were designed to provide targeting information to Kh-31 anti ship cruise missiles without using other detection systems, thus allowing the fighter to post a greater threat to enemy warships. Each fighter could carry multiple Kh-31 solid fuel anti ship missiles, the latest Soviet platforms of their kind which entered service in 1988. Impacting at approximately Mach 3 and carrying a warhead of over 100kg, they posed a serious threat to enemy warships. The fact that the fighters had a greater maximum weapons load than than original Su-30 meant it could post a greater threat to hostile warships.

Su-30MKK Maritime Strike Fighter

The precedent posed by the Su-30MKK sale, of which the PLA acquired over 70, serves as an effective precedent to a large sale of Su-57 fighters for a maritime strike role. Should the Su-57 design be modified to better operate over the sea and hunt enemy warships, in much the same was as the Su-30 design, the aircraft would potentially have a strong appeal to the PLA. The fighter’s radar cross section reducing airframe, while not as low as that of the J-20 or American F-22 Raptor, limits the range at which it can be detected – allowing it to delivery strikes on enemy warships from comfortably beyond its detection range. The fighter also has by far the largest weapons bay of any fifth generation aircraft, and is the only one which is set to be equipped with ballistic missiles – based on recent reports by the Russian Military that it has sought to develop a specialised variant of the Kh-47M2 hypersonic ballistic missile for internal carriage by the aircraft. The missile is capable of carrying out a long range anti shipping role, and while the missile’s 2000km range and 500kg payload may be somewhat reduced for a miniaturised stealth fighter compatible version they remain a highly potent threat to enemy ships at long ranges. The missiles are capable of impacting warships at speeds of up to Mach 10, and are able to disable warships with a single strike. As a delivery vehicle for the Kh-47M2 alone – a munition which no other fighter either in Chinese service or otherwise is compatible with – the Su-57 represents a unique and potentially highly valuable asset for the PLA to assert maritime dominance.

MiG-31 Interceptor with Kh-47M2 Hypersonic Ballistic Missile

The Su-57 is capable of deploying a number of other anti ship munitions alongside the Kh-47M2, including the most advanced variants of the Kh-35 cruise missile. When equipped with R-37 extreme range ‘AWACS hunter’ missiles, designed to neutralise enemy support aircraft at extreme ranges of up to 400km, the aircraft can also perform a vital and unique role of strengthening aerial anti access area denial from China’s costs – with the missile’s range combined with that of the aircraft itself allowing the PLA to comfortably threaten support platforms such as AWACS and tankers over Japan and much of Southeast Asia. Such missiles can seriously undermine the ability of high end adversaries such as the United States Navy to wage war in the region – due to their heavy reliance on bulky aircraft such as the E-3 Sentry and KC-135 Stratotanker which are vulnerable to attacks from the R-37. Ultimately all these roles remain beyond the known repertoire of the indigenous J-20 and could well be key to facilitating a sale of the Su-57 to China’s armed forces – if not to the Air Force then to the Navy.