On Christmas Eve, a Russian fifth-generation Sukhoi Su-57 fighter jet crashed in Komsomolsk-on-Amur during a test flight. Three days later, media reports emerged that the Algerian Air Force decided to acquire 14 copies of the aircraft.
On December 24, 2019, the first production Su-57 took off from the test runway of the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft plant in Dzyomgi Airport (UHKD), where the fighter jet was assembled by the United Aircraft Corporation. The purpose of the flight was to test the engines. But for an unknown reason, the brand new fighter jet crashed 111 km away from the airport. The pilot successfully ejected and was recovered unharmed. No other injuries were reported, as the plane fell in an unpopulated area.
The flight recorders of the fighter jet were recovered and a special commission will now investigate the crash. Based on preliminary data, the reason for the crash could be related to a failure of the tail control system, two sources told TASS agency.
It is the first crash involving the Su-57 since its maiden flight in January 2010. In 2014, a prototype of the Su-57, then known as the “T-50”, caught fire upon landing as it was returning from a test flight. The pilot managed to exit the airframe unharmed.
The Su-57 is the first Russian stealth aircraft and also the first completely new fighter designed by the country since the end of the Soviet era. It was tested at least twice in combat operations in Syria. The first engagement dates back to February 2018 and the latest as recently as December 2019. In September 2019, a Su-57 fighter jet made a sortie with the Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik (“Hunter”) attack drone currently under development. The two aircraft could eventually operate in collaboration.
Apparently, the crash did not scare off the Algerian military, according to media reports. On December 27, 2019, Algerian defense media Menadefense reported that the North African country could become the very first export customer for the Su-57.
The report specifies that the Algerian Air Force ordered 14 Su-57 fighter jets in its export version, in addition to 14 Su-34 long-range bombers (of which it is already the first foreign buyer) and 14 Su-35 air superiority jets. The decision was taken during the Algerian delegation’s visit to the MAKS air show in Moscow, in July 2019. During the same event, Russia had confirmed ordering 76 Sukhoi Su-57s for its air force, with a delivery date set for 2028.
While Russian media have also reported the order, no official channel confirmed any agreement concerning the Su-57 yet. The total order, valued at around $2 billion, would be a massive investment for the Northern African country, as it would represent 16% of its annual defense budget.
If this story turns out to be false, it would be the second time this year that a Russian order finds itself at the center of fake news. In October 2019, the Turkish minister of Defense denied reports from Daily Sabah that the country was about to acquire around forty Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets to replace the hundred F-35A aircraft it expected before being evicted from the Joint Strike Fighter program.