Fact-check: Did Russia use the Su-57 stealth fighter in Ukraine?

Vitaly V. Kuzmin / Wikipedia

The Sukhoi Su-57 Felon is the newest fighter jet in the arsenal of the Russian Aerospace Forces. The prototype took off in 2010 and immediately became the subject of rumor and speculation. 

The country’s only fifth-generation fighter jet and only stealth aircraft, Russia claims that the Su-57 rivals the US-made Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the Chinese Chengdu J-20. 

Recently, an avalanche of claims about the Su-57 being used in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has appeared on news websites and social media accounts around the world. In addition, unconfirmed reports, sightings and videos have been published by both Ukrainian and Russian media. But how reliable are these claims, and what are their sources? Let’s take a look. 

The official sources 

First and foremost, it should be noted that there are no official statements regarding the model’s use by either Russian or Ukrainian armed forces. Despite being keen to showcase their fighter jets taking off for bombing runs in Ukraine, the Russian Air Force has never showed the Su-57 anywhere near the war zone. 

This comes in sharp contrast with the use of the prototypes of the Su-57 in Syria, where the aircraft’s deployment lasted for just two days but was heavily publicized.  

The video 

Nearly all of the reports about the Su-57 in Ukraine are based on alleged witness sightings and videos. Of the latter, one has received a lot of attention. 

First posted across a range of Russian Telegram channels in early March – although still reported as ‘news’ by various websites up to mid-April – it is pretty convincing. 

In the video, a lone aircraft is shown flying at low altitude. Shortly after it passes, several large explosions can be seen in the distance. 

Although the video’s authenticity has not been confirmed, there are some factors which could be considered, including that the video has been geolocated to Berdichevsky bridge near Zhytomyr, west of Kyiv, an area which saw frequent attacks in early March. 

But let’s look closer at the video. 

Visual comparison 

The shape of the aircraft can only be clearly seen for a few frames at the beginning. It is small and blurry, and the aircraft itself is barely a dozen of pixels across. 

Supposed Su-57 in Ukraine 1Image: bmpd_cast / Telegram / AeroTime News

Let’s compare the silhouette seen in these screenshots to some of Russia’s fighter jets. Luckily, there is a lot of footage that allows us to do so: for example, this video from 2020 shows overflights of Russian fighter jets during the May 9 parade in Moscow. It was filmed at a similar angle as the one above, albeit in much better lighting conditions that resulted in much sharper images. Take a look at the silhouettes of the Su-57, as well as some Su-27 derivatives – Su-34 and either Su-35 or Su-30M2 (due to the lack of canards these look identical from the ground). 

Supposed Su-57 in Ukraine 2
Image: bmpd_cast / Telegram / Lessony / Youtube / AeroTime News

The silhouettes of the three jets look very distinct from the ground, but it is easy to see that all of them are fairly similar to the mystery airplane captured in the video. The resemblance becomes even clearer if we reduce the quality. In the comparison below, the pictures of the jets have been minimized and blurred so they have the size and pixilation as the screenshot from the video.  

Supposed Su-57 in Ukraine 3
Image: bmpd_cast / Telegram / Lessony / Youtube / AeroTime News

It isn’t possible to exactly reproduce the artifacts and the distortions present in the original video. But even without them it is clear that the jet in the video cannot be reliably recognized as any of the three aircraft: the features are simply too indistinguishable.  

Lack of evidence 

So, what other arguments have been put forward as to the use of the Su-57 in Ukraine? To be frank, none. Social media posts and news articles either refer to that one video, or media that features it, or present no sources at all. 

This hasn’t stopped these posts from amassing thousands of likes and shares. But there can be only one conclusion: the use of the Su-57 in Ukraine cannot be proven, and there is absolutely no concrete evidence to support the claim that the jet has been employed in the campaign.  

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