Moscow continues to pursue a Sukhoi-based fifth-generation
fighter. After five years of effort, Russia finally found an
international partner for the development project. In 2007 India
entered an agreement to jointly develop a fifth-generation fighter
based on the Sukhoi.
The Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA -- standing for Advanced Frontline
Aviation Aircraft System -- is a stealth-enabled fighter jet
designed to compete with the American Lockheed Martin F-35
Lightning Joint Strike Aircraft and the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22
Raptor. Russian air force watchers already christened it
"Raptorsky" after the F-22 Raptor, with which it is supposed to
The developers describe the T-50 PAK FA as having excellent
maneuverability, supersonic cruising speed, long range and high
protective properties. PAK FA will have a takeoff weight of 20
tons, which falls between the takeoff weight of the two American
competitor airplanes, the F-35 JSF (17.2 tons) and the F-22 (24
The new fighter -- a medium version -- will have a traditional
wing form, though the dramatic-looking reverse-delta wing of the
Su-47 Berkut influenced the Russian fighter's designers.
The Russian fifth-generation fighter is supposed to make its
first test flight this year. The testing dates have been postponed
from the end of 2008, as had been previously announced by Sergei
Ivanov, the Russian deputy prime minister in charge of defense
Some Russian spokesmen promised deployment of the T-50 in 2013,
but according to the earlier statements by Sukhoi CEO Mikhail
Pogosyan, the new Russian-Indian fifth-generation fighter might
enter mass production by 2015.
According to Russian sources, the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA will
incorporate technology from the two experimental predecessors: the
Su-47 and the MiG Project 1.44.
The flagships of the Russian aerospace technology --
Tekhnokompleks Scientific and Production Center, Ramenskoye
Instrument Building Design Bureau, the Instrument Building
Scientific Research Institute in Zhukovskiy, the Ural'sk Optical
and Mechanical Plant in Yekaterinburg, the Polet firm in Nizhniy
Novgorod and the Central Scientific Research Radio Engineering
Institute in Moscow -- were selected to develop the avionics suite
for the fifth-generation airplane.
NPO Saturn has been determined to lead the work on the engines.
The Novosibirsk Aviation Production Association has begun
construction of the fifth-generation fighter at its renowned
Komsomol'sk-on-Amure Chkalov plant where most Sukhoi fighters are
However, considering the current economic recession and the
track record of delayed deadlines, the Russian fifth-generation
fighter may stay on paper for a longer time. This would give
Washington and its allies sufficient time to launch mass production
of F-35s, deploy them on American bases and fulfill orders from
international customers such as Britain, the Netherlands and
The F-35 is expected to enter service no later than 2012, while
the Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA is certain to be in mass production
by that time.
The future may not be bright for the next generation of the
Russian fighter. Many Western defense experts believe Russia's
fourth-generation fighter jets cannot withstand the U.S.
stealth-enabled tandem of F-35 and F-22, which offer high
maneuverability and near invisibility to surface radars because of
advanced radar suppression equipment. Moreover, U.S.-based
simulations and tests suggest that the stealth-enabled
fifth-generation F-22 and F-35 can defeat any current aircraft,
including the Raptorsky.
Ariel Cohen is
senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at the