MOSCOW. (Ilya Kramnik, RIA Novosti military commentator) - The development of the fifth-generation jet fighter is one of the most widely discussed issues in Russia's military.
What's more, with its potential involvement in developing the jet fighter, India, one of Russia's long-standing partners in military technical cooperation, confirms its interest in Russia's future project.
The new jet fighter is being developed under the PAK FA (Prospective (promising) Aircraft System of the Frontline Aviation) program to replace fourth-generation models now in service in Russian and Indian air forces.
The Soviet Union launched fifth-generation fighter programs in the 1980s. By the mid-1990s, the Mikoyan Design Bureau developed the Project 1.44 warplane, also known as the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG MFI. The Sukhoi Design Bureau came up with the S-37 Berkut experimental supersonic forward swept-wing jet fighter. The S-37 aircraft was an advanced technology demonstration prototype not intended to be mass-produced as a fighter. However, due to the lack of funding, the Project 1.44 aircraft was not streamlined and never entered production either.
By the late 1990s, it became apparent that existing fifth-generation fighter projects were becoming obsolete, that their production versions would be inferior to the brand new American F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter, and that even if finalized the air force would receive such warplanes a decade too late. (U.S. secret weapon: F-22-A Raptor in action. RIA Novosti video)
As a result, in the early 2000s, the Russian Government made decision to develop an entirely new fifth-generation fighter. The Sukhoi, Mikoyan and Yakovlev Design Bureaus, all renowned for their fighters, offered several warplane versions.
The project was eventually entrusted to Sukhoi, which refers to it internally as the T-50.
Various maiden flight and supply deadlines were discussed from the very beginning. The T-50 was eventually scheduled to perform its first flight somewhere between 2008 and 2010. In late 2008, the commander of the Russian air force announced that the plane would first take off in August 2009.
Mikhail Pogosyan, head of the Sukhoi Design Bureau, confirmed the information. "The progress that has been made by now suggests that we can begin the flight tests within one year," Mr Pogosyan said. Several versions of the aircraft are being discussed, including a two-seater model, and a carrier-based aircraft.
In the summer of 2008, officials said the T-50 design had been approved and prototype aircraft blueprints sent to the Komsomolsk-on-Amur aircraft-building plant (KNAAPO) in Russia's Far East, where jet fighters will be produced. The plant is currently building three prototype T-50 fighters for future tests, due to last five to six years, while mass production will not get underway before 2015.
Although T-50 specifications have not been disclosed, it is known that prototypes and the first production aircraft will be fitted with 117S (upgraded AL-31) turbofan engines from Russian aircraft engine manufacturer Saturn. As a result, the T-50 will be a heavy fighter with a takeoff weight of over 30 metric tons and will have the same dimensions as the well-known Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker. The Tikhomirov Institute of Instrument Design, which had developed the Irbis radar for the Su-35BM Flanker, is now working on the T-50 radar. The new fighter's radar and fire-control system will be designs on the basis of the Su-35BM's systems.
India is reportedly more interested in the two-seater version, while Russia, with its developed ground and air fight control system, plans to concentrate on the one-seater fighter. There is a possibility that the Indian version of the Russian fighter will be lighter and smaller, and thus cheaper.
There have been reports in the past few months about the new fighter's exterior design. Judging by photographs of the prototype available online, the T-50 will resemble the American F-22, a fact easily explained by similar parameters on their technical specifications. However, it is yet undecided whether the model will eventually be used as a prototype.
As of now, one can only make general conclusions on what kind of a machine it will be, based on the known parameters of their technical specifications. The new fighter should be:
- multifunctional - capable of successfully hitting air, ground and water targets alike, including small and moving ones, in any weather or time of the day, against an enemy equipped with high-precision weapons;
- super-maneuverable - capable of performing controlled flight at low velocity and large angle of attack;
- largely undetectable by optical, infrared or radio radars; and
- capable of taking off and landing on short runways.
However, the term "fifth-generation" covers more than just the fighters. It also embodies a whole range of equipment to ensure advanced combat capabilities, including weapons, radio-electronic equipment, ground- and air-based supply and control systems.
These elements are also under development, although not all projects are proceeding with equal speed and success. Nevertheless, they are all crucial to the program as a whole. Without them, the new fighter will remain a very expensive toy incapable of boosting the combat capabilities of the air force.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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