Warplanes: Evolution Of The F-22ski


October 2,2008:  The long promised Russian answer to the F-22, the T-50, is under construction and expected to have its first flight next year. Another experimental aircraft, the Su-35, had its first flight earlier this year. The Su-35 contains a lot of the technologies that will go into the T-50. Last Fall, the Russian Air Force showed off the first of two flyable prototypes of the Su-35. It was less than two years ago, that Russia announced its long promised Su-35 fighter, was back in development again. The Su35 is an enhanced Su-30 (itself a development of the Cold War era Su-27), and has been in development for over a decade. At one point, it was called the Su-37, but the name was changed back to Su-35. A dozen or more Su-35 prototypes have been built, and apparently no two are identical. This is typical for Russian aircraft development. They prefer to produce many incremental improvements, rather than make a huge jump to a very different new model. Thus you can trace an evolution from the Su-27 to the T-50.

The Russians want to sell their "Fifth Generation Fighter" (the T-50) to China, India and other foreign customers. There is already a deal for India to develop its own version of the T-50, while contributing some technologies (like lightweight materials) to the basic design. The Indians have announced that their version of the T-50 will be a two seater with longer range than the single seat Russian model. Russia now has the billions of dollars it will take to carry out the T-50 development program. India has become a partner, contributing cash, technology and manufacturing capability.

The T-50 is a 34 ton fighter that is more maneuverable than the 33 ton, Su-27, has much better electronics and is stealthy. It can cruise at above the speed of sound. It also costs at least fifty percent more than the Su-27. That would be some $60 million (for a barebones model, 50 percent more with all the options), about what a top-of-the-line F-16 costs. The Su-27 was originally developed to match the F-15, which is larger than the single engine F-16.

Russia is promising a fighter with a life of 6,000 flight hours, and engines good for 4,000 hours. Russia promises world-class avionics, plus a very pilot-friendly cockpit. The use of many thrusters and fly-by-wire will produce an aircraft even more maneuverable than earlier Su-30s (which have been extremely agile).

The T-50 is not meant to be a direct rival for the F-22, because the Russian aircraft is not as stealthy. But if the maneuverability and advanced electronics proposed Su-35 live up to the promises, the aircraft would be more than a match for every fighter out there except the F-22. If such an T-50 was sold for well under $100 million each, there would be a lot of buyers. Russia says it will begin production, and sales, in five years. That may be too ambitious, but for the moment, the T-50 is the only potential competitor for the F-22 in development.




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