July 19, 2019

Why Russia Flew Half of Its Su-57 Fighters (And It’s Not What You Think)
Upon his arrival at the flight test center, Putin discussed the merits of the Su-57 with several of its test pilots; one called it a “great leap into the future,” while others suggested that certain technical details are still being worked out. Several weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s IL-96-300PU presidential plane was flanked by no less than six Su-57 stealth fighter jets while en route to the 929th Chkalov State Flight-Test Center in southwestern Russia.Video footage of the flight shows the Su-57 fighters grouped in what better resembles a parade column than an escort formation, suggesting a soft-power intent behind Putin’s trip. There are several factors at play. First and perhaps least significant, this footage of six functional Su-57’s heads off any and all speculation that the 2019 Victory Day Parade airshow was called off for any reason other than the Defense Ministry’s cited weather concerns.(This first appeared in May 2019.)Other coverage has focused on the political connotations, noting that the Chkalov Center trip took place shortly before Putin’s Sochi meeting with Pompeo. While partially convincing, this line of reasoning cannot explain the timing. If Putin wanted to stage a diplomatic show of force, why now and not during his prior meetings with President Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton?  After all, Russia’s strategic approach vis-a-vis the US has remained largely consistent over the past several years.
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