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T-50 / Project 701 / PAK FA - Program
[Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsyi]

When the production of the F-22 Raptor fifth-generation multirole fighter, which became a legislator of fashion in the field of next generation fighter planes, started in the US in 1997, it became clear that Russia needed to replace the Su-27 with a plane that would be up to par with its Western counterparts. Since its first flight in the early 2010s, the T-50 receiving a vast series of upgrades to its avionics, stealth and armaments, Andrei Kots wrote.

The T-50-1 prototype took to the skies on January 29, 2010, and the T-50-2 followed suit on March 3, 2011. After 40 successful flight tests the T-50-2 took part in the MAKS 2011 air show. Before taking off, however, one of its engines caught fire forcing the pilot to abort. Engineers fixed the faulty engine and the T-50-2 flight tests resumed.

The T-50-3 flew on July 24, 2012. Unlike its predecessors, the new prototype carried onboard active phased-array radar. In December 2012, the T-50-4 took to the skies with the same radar array on board. Both prototypes proved fast and highly maneuverable and their state-of-the-art radar systems worked perfectly.

The T-50-6, T-50-8 and T-50-9 (maiden flights in April 2015, November 2016 and April 2017, respectively) were second-stage prototypes, enabling the use of upgraded AL-41F1 engines, similar to the ones powering the Su-35 fighters. he second-stage engine, dubbed Item 30, featured a new fan and control mechanism; it will be more fuel-efficient and will have greater endurance. A pilot version of the second-stage PAK FA with a new engine was slated to fly in 2017.

The T-50-6, T-50-8 and T-50-9 also have stronger airframes, bigger wingspans and make wider use of composite materials. Flight tests are proceeding at full swing. Everything is going well. We are already testing in-flight missile launches and the plane is performing just fine, Aerospace Forces Commander Viktor Bondarev told reported on the sidelines of the MAKS 2015 airshow.

The government commission decided on 26 April 2002 to choose the Sukhoi holding company as the head company to develop and produce the fighter of the fifth generation. The prototype of the PAK FA was to take-off in 2006 and that in 2010 the aircraft was to be ready for series production. The first deliveries, both for Russian armed forces and for export, were to be possible in 2011-12. The new airplane was proposed to be brought from the concept design to a prototype series in less than 9 years. Historically, fourth and fifth generation fighters have not been created in less than 15 years. The Russian government had promised to allocate 1.5 billion dollars for the PAK FA through 2010. But the Russian Air Force was receiving less than 200 million dollars a year during this period, and would spend it primarily on other needs.

The prices and sources of funding will determine the destiny of the whole program. As of 2002 officials agreed that the initial phase of the program would cost $1.5 billion. However, $1.5 billion was the sum needed for creating a new generation of avionics for the fighter (considering the fact that pre-production models of the phased array have already been produced, and would soon be tested). And finally, designers would have to spend several hundred millions of dollars on creating a new airframe.

The new fighter's exterior design was approved on December 10, 2004.

On September 20, 2005 AVIA.ru site based on the information Interfax-AVN reported that "Experimental Design Bureau named after Yakovlev suspends participation in the research and development work on the creation of Sukhoi PAK FA (PAK FA) ... "This is due to changes in the specifications of the main customer," - said General Director of Yakovlev Oleg Demchenko. He recalled that until recently Bureau acted as a subcontractor of the head developer of the PAK FA - Aviation Holding Company "Sukhoi".

The development of an engine for the fifth generation jet fighters involved two big companies, NPO Saturn (in consortium with UMPO) and FSUE Salyut, which are participating in this project and competing against each other to win the state-guaranteed order. The project is being implemented in two stages: firstly through upgrading the fourth-generation AL-31F engine and, secondly, the development of a basically new configuration of the fifth-generation engine. The consortium led by NPO Saturn was the winner of the first stage and their engine design will be installed on the first PAK FA engine prototypes. Their procurement was scheduled for 2010. However, installation of the unit developed by Salyut on the modernised Su-27 jet fighter had already been carried out since December 2006.

The financing for the first stage was considerably lower than the funds planned by the government to finance the second stage (according to unofficial information US$500m and US$2-3bn, respectively). Completion of the AL-41F engine (by 2007 with a readiness of 30 percent) would require, in the opinion of the boss of Rosaviakosmos, 600 - 800 million dollars. Saturn said that launching of production of the AL-41F engine would take $150 million. An improved version of the AL-31F will be used on the aircraft originally (though it is not clear how these heavy motors are reconciled with the concept of a 20-ton fighter). The upgrade of these engines will require expenditures of 1.2-1.5 billion dollars.

State financing would cover not more than 20-22 percent of the cost of the development of the PAK FA. It will thus be necessary to draw extrabudgetary sources of funding, lending the development program a principle of openness for international cooperation. In the opinion of experts, export income, if it is taken from the plants, can provide not more than 1 billion dollars. It is maintained that the insufficient amounts can be received from foreign partners.

The plane's development was to be conducted with a view of achieving a reasonable compromise between its cost and combat efficiency, and take into account the market demand. It was estimated by Russian sources that export sales of the new warplane must reach 500 to 600 fighters at a price of $35 to $40 million each to make production of the new aircraft profitable.

According to some reports, India and Russia agreed to jointly develop this fifth-generation fighter, under a scheduled entry into service in 2009. This would be the first such joint development venture between the two countries. There was little chance that Russia would have fifth-generation pursuit planes of its own. Development and construction of a fifth-generation fighter would require about $20 billion dollars, and as of early 2004 it was unlikely that the government will appropriate financing of this scale. "The problem is that economic and military authorities in this country live in parallel spaces and have no common approach to problems," according to Deputy Director of the analytical department of the Political and Military Analysis Institute Alexander Khramchikhin.

According to a report on 09 January 2008, the general director of the company "Sukhoi" Michael Pogosyan said the tests were officially planned for 2009, and "closer to 2015" its serial production must start. In general all goes according to the schedule, he said. "Now we are at the stage of constructing pre-production models of the plane. It is necessary go step by step through the stages which are directly linked to the preparation of the flight tests".

On 03 April 2008 RIA Novosti reported that Russia planned to begin flight tests of the new fifth-generation fighter in 2009. "The development of a fifth-generation Advanced Tactical Frontline Fighter is being carried out under the Sukhoi PAK FA project," Russian industry and energy minister Viktor Khristenko said in a report posted on the ministry's website. "The flight tests of the aircraft are scheduled to begin in 2009," he said. The new fighter aircraft, which will feature high maneuverability and stealth to ensure air superiority and precision in destroying ground and sea targets, will be built at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur aircraft-manufacturing plant in Russia's Far East.

In the Summer of 2009, the fighter's design was approved, and the prototype blueprints were delivered to the KNAAPO aircraft building company based in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, where three experimental fighters would be built for testing. On 07 July 2008 Air Force commander Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin said "We will begin test flights [of the new fighter] in 2009, and hope to receive the aircraft in 2013". In February 2009, the first prototype was constructed. After the plane was successfully tested on the runway, a decision was made to stage the maiden flight in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, rather than in Moscow.

"The fifth-generation fighter jets are undoubtedly competing with US F-22s and F-35s, but it is considerably cheaper even though it has similar characteristics, while in some aspects, for example, maneuverability, it does better than the US jets," Vladimir Gutenev, a member of State Duma's expert panel on the aviation industry, told Sputnik 06 July 2018. Gutenev added that Su-57s will be two and a half times cheaper than F-22s and F-35s, even though the two US aircraft have different price tags and their prices range greatly. Sputnik reported that F-22s cost $146.2 million and F-35s cost between $83 and $108 million. The Pentagon published a report late last year, however, saying that F-22s cost $143 million, while Lockheed Martin published a report saying that F-35s cost between $94.3 and $122.4 million (depending on the variant).




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