It’s still a somewhat expensive fighter despite the Russian government's efforts to drive down the price

As the first serial Su-57 models begin to roll out, Russia’s defence industry mounts a renewed push to export its fifth-generation air superiority fighter. “We are holding negotiations with several countries. We see requests and interest. Southeast Asia, four or five countries [show their interest],” CEO of the state arms seller Rosoboronexport Aleksandr Mikheyev told Russian reporters.

Rosoboronexport apparently does not want to reveal which Southeast Asian states they are currently in talks with, as public exposure could complicate ongoing negotiations. Still, recent precedent may offer some insight into several of these “four or five” countries. Vietnam reportedly began to show interest in the Su-57 as early as 2017. The Vietnamese Air Force consists entirely of Soviet and Russian fighters, with the service looking to replace its aging Su-27 fighters. Russian defence outlets reported in 2019 that Hanoi was in talks with Moscow to procure a regiments’ worth— twelve units— of Su-57’s as part of a prospective contract worth $2 billion. Also in 2019, Myanmar’s ambassador to Russia signalled their openness to signing a Su-57 import contract. Such a deal could mark Myanmar’s transition away from its large, but increasingly obsolescent fighter roster of MiG-29’s and Chengdu J-7’s to a leaner, modernized fighting force.

Myanmar ordered six Su-30SME multirole fighters from Russia in 2018, though these aircraft have yet to be delivered. The Su-30SME and Su-57 are meant for somewhat different roles, but there is enough overlap in capabilities between the two that Myanmar would not be entirely unjustified in jettisoning its Su-30SME contract in favor of a Su-57 import bid. As noted by Charlie Gao, a Su-57 procurement would place the Myanmar Air Force on a better footing to compete with its Thai counterpart.

Russia has courted Malaysia’s patronage with a trade-in scheme of sorts, recently offering to take the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s aging and increasingly troubled MiG-29 and Su-30MKM fighters as part of a procurement program to acquire Su-35, MiG-35, or Su-57 units. The specific terms of Russia’s trade-in program remain unclear; Malaysian leaders said they were reviewing the proposal. “We are actually studying their proposal about taking back the old MiGs and providing us with the new version, MiG-35, I think. But, of course, even then we would have to pay quite a large sum of money. And Malaysia is not a country that spends too much money on defence,” said Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

Russia’s early inroads in Southeast Asia are only a small part of a larger campaign to court foreign customers for the Su-57 as it enters mass production. Other potential clients include India, Turkey, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, with Russian defence industry insiders predicting that market interest in the Su-57 will balloon after the fighter enters widespread service in Russia’s Armed Forces. “It is unlikely that there will be a significant demand until we ship enough machines in our own army,” Rostec aviation complex’s Industrial Director Anatoly Serdyukov told Russian state news. “Meanwhile, we offer this machine to the foreigners, we conduct our advertisement campaign.”

Despite the Kremlin’s relentless efforts to drive down the fighter’s costs, the Su-57 will continue to occupy a sizable chunk of Russia’s defence spending at around $40 million per model; with as many as seventy-six serial Su-57 units slated to be procured by 2028, the Kremlin is keen to offset these costs as much as possible by establishing a firm export base over the coming decades.