in general, K-77M is the most complex air-to-air missile that Russia has ever built.

The Russian Air Force put into operation the first Su-57 fighter in December 2020, and it is expected that by 2027 there will be 76 aircraft. The Su-57 is currently considered a fifth-generation fighter, but the airframe has been used to test a number of weapons with sixth-generation technology, including hypersonic missiles, artificial intelligence (AI), and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Su-57 will also be equipped with Saturn-30 engines from 2022, which will significantly improve its flight performance and range, which is already among the highest in the world and is well suited to the Russian Air Force’s long-range strike operations. Despite its impressive performance, the potential of any fighter in air combat depends heavily on the air-to-air missiles it carries.

K-77M Long-Range Missile
K-77M Long-Range Missile

Most Russian fighters (including the most advanced Su-35 today), use the R-27 long-range air-to-air missile; this is a modernized variant, based on a missile developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The R-27 is the world’s most advanced, semi-active radar homing missile; but its capabilities are far behind that of modern missiles using active radar guidance such as the US AIM-120C/D, Europe’s Meteo, or China’s PL-15. Russia has developed a new specialized long-range air-to-air missile, the K-77M, developed for the Su-57, to give it an edge over its main competitors.

Russian state media outlet RT explained the active phased array antenna technology used by the K-77 as follows: “An active phased array antenna consists of a large number of cone-shaped cells installed under a transparent-to-radio-waves cap on the nose of the missile. Each cell receives only a part of the signal, but once digitally processed, the information from all cells is summarised into a ‘full picture,’ enabling the K-77M missile to immediately respond to sharp turns of the target, making interception practically inevitable.” Integration of the K-77 is but the latest example of the Su-57 fighter pioneering groundbreaking new technologies which other countries may only later begin to develop themselves.

In addition to the Su-57, the K-77M missile can be used to arm other Russian fighters such as the Su-35, Su-30SM2 and Su-27SM3, all of which have relatively modern radars, suitable for guiding the K-77M. The K-77M missile will be key to partially restoring Russia’s missile advantage, and preparing the Russian Air Force to face next-generation threats, such as the future US missile AIM-260.

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