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It’s been over a decade since the Sukhoi Su-57, Russia’s first fifth-generation fighter jet, took to the skies. Yet, despite its impressive capabilities, the aircraft has struggled to find widespread adoption, particularly among its traditional allies like India and China.

India and China have long been major buyers of Russian fighter jets. However, both nations have taken different paths in the era of fifth-generation fighters. China has successfully developed its own J-20, while India, after a failed co-development project with Russia for the FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft) based on the Su-57 airframe, is focusing on its own Tejas and AMCA programs.

Several factors contributed to India’s withdrawal from the FGFA project. Limited access to Su-57 prototypes for evaluation, concerns about technology transfer, high unit cost, and disagreement over funding for development were all key stumbling blocks.

India, meanwhile, played a crucial role in rescuing the Sukhoi Design Bureau after the Soviet Union collapsed with the Su-30MKI order. This customized variant, based on the Su-27 Trainer, was a testament to India’s willingness to work with Russia. But when it came to the Su-57, things soured.

India initially partnered with Russia on the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) program, aiming to develop a customized variant based on the Su-57 airframe. This collaboration could have been a win-win, marrying Russian technology with Indian expertise and potentially Western components.

Desperate to kickstart Su-57 production, Russia has recently softened its stance. They offer improved access to the aircraft, technology transfer (ToT) opportunities, and even involvement in future Su-57 upgrades. However, India remains unfazed.

India’s aviation landscape has transformed. The success of the Tejas Mk1 program, coupled with ongoing work on the Mk2 and ambitious plans for the fifth-gen AMCA, has emboldened India to pursue self-reliance in fighter jet development. The Su-57, despite its potential, no longer aligns with India’s strategic goals.

The Su-57’s story is a cautionary tale of potential unfulfilled. Despite its impressive capabilities, geopolitical realities and strategic decisions have hindered its path to mass production. Whether Russia can find a way to turn things around remains to be seen. The future of the Su-57, once a symbol of Russian fighter jet prowess, now hangs in the balance.

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