Russia has reportedly deployed two T-50 PAK FA fighter jets to Syria.
Wael Al Hussaini, who monitors Syrian and Russian military developments, released footage on his social media account on Wednesday of what appeared to be two T-50 PAK FA prototype jets arriving to Russia’s Hmeymim airbase in Latakia, Syria.
Exclusive#Russia deploying its brand new fifth generation fighter jet the Su-57 in #Khmemeim AB #Syria
— Wael Al Hussaini (@WaelAlHussaini) February 21, 2018
The T-50’s military designation, once the jet is serially-produced, is Su-57.
The Russian government has not yet commented on the reports. Sputnik International quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying, “This is [a question] for the Defense Ministry. The president is the commander-in-chief, but this issue is still more within the responsibility of the Defense Ministry.”
Sources speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed to Interfax that the aircraft had been aircraft, probably for testing the jets’ air-launched armaments.
The deployment of the PAK FA to Syria is a notable step in the aircraft’s development. Earlier this month, Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov noted that the jets are entering combat trials, which were assumed to be planned to take place in Russia, given that the aircraft is not officially in Russian service yet. If confirmed, the deployment to Syria means the jets will see some form of operational use, but it is unclear precisely what their role will be.
So far, a number of prototypes have been built and Russia will sign an agreement for the ‘pilot batch’ of 12 jets sometime in 2018. These, once produced, will still operate on the ‘first stage’ engine as the jet’s main engine, the Type 30, is still under development. A prototype made a test flight with one of the Type 30 engines back in December.
In January, Tass Russian News Agency interviewed Tactical Missiles Corporation CEO Boris Obnosov, who stated that the Su-57 had begun conducting flights with its air-launched weapons onboard.
He said, “Tense work is underway. The entire set of precision weapons for this aircraft, both inside the fuselage and on an external sling, is being developed by the Corporation’s enterprises. We have switched to practical flights and I believe that we will see the result in the imminent future.”
Business Insider, reporting about the deployment, noted that the deployment will allow Russia to test its PAK FA in an environment with the American F-22. Furthermore, experts told the media outlet that the move could be a bid to increase the Su-57’s profile amid Russian efforts to ink an agreement with India, in particular, for production of an export variant.
The cost of development of the advanced aircraft, combined with falling energy prices and Western sanctions that sapped defense budget growth, forced Russia to reduce its planned order of Su-57s for the immediate time-frame. Cooperation with India, on the proposed FGFA program, would boost financing for the jet.
EDIT: This post has been updated to reflect a report from Interfax.