January 22, 2016

Russians sobbing over long delayed PAK FA, T-50, stealth fighter.

Unfortunately for Russia's modern Tsar and throwback to Communist Authoritarianism Putin, compared to the US and even China, Russia has been unable to maintain financial or technical momentum on 5 Gen Jets.

India has been rightly wary of financing Russia's high risk PAK-FA:

Photo or artwork? of the PAK FA, T-50 (Courtesy Sukhoi)

If the US is notoriously having problems developing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Russia is in even more dire strikes with its first ever stealth aircraft. This is the "PAK FA" (Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation) also known as the T-50. Clearly Russian espionage to steal stealth secrets has not been good enough.

Stealth not only involves snazzy wing and tail angles and recessed jets in the body, but radar absorbent skin and low emission electronics on the aircraft.

Russia is still at the stage the US was with the F-22 in the 1990s. After more than 10 years of development the Russians have only built six PAK FA prototypes and have minimised testing because the six are too dangerous to fly. In June 2014 the fifth prototype caught fire on the ground. Russia has not yet developed an adequate engine capable of “super-cruise” ie. with the ability of the F-22 to  cruise above the speed of sound.

India, Russia’s PAK FA joint venture partner, is unhappy about the high costs and slow progress (in that regard see an earlier January 2014 report in Submarine Matters).

Russia is having problems affording the PAK FA project. Russia's invasion of Crimea and covert action program in eastern Ukraine, has led to Western economic sanctions. The flow of Western dual-use technology helpful to the PAK FA project has also slowed. Also low oil prices have damaged the oil-export-dependent Russian economy -  leading to a decline in the Russian GDP of 3%.

Due to low revenue and high PAK FA prices Russia only plans to buy 12 PAK FAs in 2020 instead of the planned 60. By 2020 the US may have 500 stealth fighters (the F-22s and new F-35s) leaving Russia way behind. Much more detail here.

The PAK FA struts its stuff. Awesome jet blast! Every home should have one! :)

See a subsequent article from The DiplomatBack From the Dead: India and Russia Revive Talks Over Fifth Generation Fighter Jet February 11, 2016 on the tortuous Indian-Russian negotiations concerning the staccato PAK FA project. India and Russia have assigned more acronyms to the Project - also called Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and Perspective Multi-role Fighter (PMF) - as if in place of actual progress.



Anonymous said...

Russia needs to modernize its air force in big numbers, so it is ordering SU-30SM and SU-35. Both are cheaper than PAK-FA. Not counting armament, SU-30SM is <$50M, SU-35 $84M while PAK-FA will be $100M++ (one can only look at F22 and F35 costs). It is a no brainer decision.
Russians are early proponents of long range IRST and they deploy long range AAM with IR seeker. That negates the usefulness of stealth to some extent. Any plane at Mach 1 or above, supercruising or not, will light up the IR spectrum. And then. Russia's Air force is tightly coupled to its air defence network. Potentially, they can use stealth defeating VHF radar like Nebo-M to tell SU-30SM, SU-35 where to cue their IRST.
I see PAK FA in the long run to be their top tier fighters and that likely e\means small quantities.
Besides a recent debatable simulation shows the SU-35 eating F35 for breakfast.

Pete said...


Yes the SU-35S are certainly a formidable evolution of the Flanker series.

Russia will need to eventually build PAK FAs in sufficent numbers (200 for Russia? 200 for India?) to make them a viable program. To justify the high development costs.

I'd say the F-35s will be a strike fighter (like the name says) effectively replacing the F-117 role and part of the F-22's fighter-bomber role. F-22s and F-35s have their lowest radar signature front on.

This leaves US Super Hornets, F-15s, F-16s and especially F-22s to overwelm Russia's limited purchases of SU-35s. Russia can no longer afford hordes of even "good enough" SU-35 aircraft.



Anonymous said...

"Besides a recent debatable simulation shows the SU-35 eating F35 for breakfast."

Another debatable simulation shows just the opposite:


The crux of the matter is that the F-35 is better off acting as a stand-off missile
shooter than as a close-range dogfighter.

MHalblaub said...

Dear Pete,

the F-35 will be a problem for Australia because it is just a bomb truck and not a interceptor aircraft to defend Wedgetails and tankers.

The problem with over the horizon or beyond visible range (BVR) capabilities are the rules of engagement. The US ones downed an Iran A300 passenger jet. The scenario made up by war-is-boring lacks several things. High density air space with a lot of em-signatures of different sources and the Su-35 lack the long range R-37 Arrow missile to kill the AWACS or Wedgetails.

The lack to supercruise also shortens the range for F-35's own missiles. By using afterburner a F-35 will be a bright star in the sky.

The next problem is Russia can afford much more Su-35 for the price of one F-35. So the one to one scenario is not valid.

There are cheaper stand-off missile shooters than an F-35.


Pete said...

Hi MHalblaub

Yes I hope Australia doesn't end up buying more than 24 F-35s. Boeing hopefully will come up with an even stealthier Super Hornet of F-15.

The simulation F-35 vs SU-35 did indeed assume that skies over the Baltic were unusually uncongested.

In the Vietnam War the need to close with the less sophisticated MiG enemies did mean that cannon did need to be fitted on US F-4 Phantoms. Cannon seems a low priority on F-35s, even though ground attack-strike is meant to be a major F-35 role.

Lack of money slowing the PAF FA project may also be effecting Russia's SU-35 project - with just 48 SU-35s on order (if accurate) down from 200 see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukhoi_Su-35 .

Bit of a wilderness of numbers and uncertainty on future aircraft buys.



Anonymous said...

"Boeing hopefully will come up with an even stealthier Super Hornet of F-15."

Well, now that Israel is interested in getting the Silent Eagle:


Maybe other countries will consider buying this aircraft too.

Pete said...

Hi Anonymous [Jan 26, 7:54AM]

Thanks for http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/f-15-silent-eagle-may-get-a-reprieve-as-israel-requests-1740179374 . Another good reference is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_F-15SE_Silent_Eagle .

Boeing and the US would be doing the Western world a service by keeping lower cost more easily exported F-15s and Super Hornets available. The F-35 clearly has some strengths and some weaknesses. Competition between US aircraft types and between US companies has served and serves the US well.

The advantage of commonality of parts across all 3 F-35 categories is being lost due to the realisation that different stress loads require specialised parts and fittings.

The USN in particular will have noted the fate of the attempt to build and force on services the F-111 joint strike fighter-bomber. The F-111 became successful but only in niche roles for two airforces using runways.

The F-35 also seems to be shaping up as good in some roles, bad in others and too expensive over all.



Anonymous said...

"Boeing and the US would be doing the Western world a service by keeping lower cost more easily exported F-15s and Super Hornets available."

In addition to the Israeli interest in the Silent Eagle, Qatar also wants to buy
Strike Eagles:


Also, Kuwait is interested in the Super Hornet:


And there's also the possibility of more F-16 exports:


The debut of the new F-16V variant also opens up the prospect of even more exports in
the future:


So the production lines for these aircraft may stay open for a bit longer.

Pete said...

Hi Anonymous [at Jan 26, 7:03PM]

Overall I think its odd that the US intends to build a barely Mach 1 F-35 for export.

Some customers need Mach 2 air superiorty fighters - very much F-15 territory and a role the F-35 can't fill.

That being the case I'd say the Lockheed Martin sales strategy is to use its economic and political power (with the Pentagon) to coerce compliant Western customers to place firm orders for F-35s. Then around 2030 the US will permit Lockheed Martin to export what customers really wanted in the first place - that is a cheaper lower spec version of the F-22.

As I wrote in a 2008 article http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=7401&page=0 :

"The F-35 has low speed, short range and rigid weight restrictions. Everything depends on its low radar observability and if it can be seen it will be inferior to the Flanker. Australia will be forced to get round the F-35's new in-service obsolescence by buying the F-22 sooner or later. Australia can wait to buy the F-22 rather than buying the F-35 "off the plan"."



Anonymous said...

Russia put in an order for 50 additional SU-35 in January 2016 bringing total to ~100. Besides Russia already has ~72 SU-30SM and unconfirmed plans are for 73 more over 3 years.

In my view, the SU-35 is not necessarily better than the SU-30SM, basically the Russian variant of the Indian SU-30 MKI and Malaysian MKM variant. Canards always bring better handling at higher angles of attack from an aerodynamic point. The SU-35 has longer lasting airframe and engine as well as the better Irbis radar. But India is planning on a deep modernization of their MKI with AESA radars so I bet Russia will soon put the Irbis into their SU-30SM.

It is announced recently that PAK-FA development goes forward between India and Russia. The R&D bill decreases by 20% due to the Russian currency devaluation. $8B now instead of $11B. Quite cheap next to the F-35 bill.


Anonymous said...

"Then around 2030 the US will permit Lockheed Martin to export what customers
really wanted in the first place - that is a cheaper lower spec version of the

Insufficient numbers of F-22's were built:


Unfortunately, the production line will *not* be restarted:


By the time 2030 rolls around, UCAVs may well be the "go to" platform for that role.

Note that Mach 2 fighters vary rarely fly at Mach 2. In fact, most of them become
decidedly subsonic once you start hanging EO/IR targeting pods, external weapons,
fuel tanks and other external stores on them.

Flying supersonically also compromises stealth by increasing the aircraft's heat
signature (more fighters are sporting IRSTs nowadays).

Also note that the F-35 doesn't depend completely on stealth, it also features a
"cognitive" EW capability that isn't talked about much:



"The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons program
ever, won’t justify its price tag by outmaneuvering other jets (it
can’t), flying particularly fast, or even by carrying munitions in
a stealthy bomb bay. Instead, the U.S. military is banking on an
emerging technology called cognitive electronic warfare to give
the jet an almost-living ability to sniff out new hard-to-detect
air defenses and invent ways to foil them on the fly.

While the specifics of the jet’s electronic warfare, or EW, package
remain opaque, scientists, program watchers and military leaders
close to the program say it will be key to the jet’s evolution and
its survival against the future’s most advanced airplane-killing
technology. In short, cognitive EW is the most important feature on
the world’s most sophisticated warplane."

Of course, once these "cognitive" systems start finding their way into non-stealthy
aircraft, many of them may get yet another lease on life.

Josh said...

As far as I know the F-35 is still a Mach 1.5 fighter. The manufacturer says that after a reheat it can maintain 1.2 at full military power. That may not be true, but F-35 hardly seems subsonic. At a number of power settings I'd expect it to do better than 4.5 designs with internal ordnance vice equivalent war loads hung externally, particularly if drop tanks are needed for equivalent range.

ROE will always put a BVR aircraft at a disadvantage, though with modern noncooperative target identification technologies I wonder to what extent ROEs will be limited such that this is a problem (at least to the degree of Vietnam). To some extent that is more of a political question than a military one though.

PAK-FA will likely be very much delayed by technical and economic problems but I can't see the Russians ever pulling the plug if only for national prestige reasons. What will me more interesting to me is how long the Indians stay in for. My money is on them bailing before any Russian IOC.


Pete said...


Yes Russia is buying many SUs.

Russia can make more announcements on the PAK FA than verifiable progress.

I don't trust Russian claims on development costs for the PAK FA. Many costs are classified and managerial. Also Russia has a much lower defence budget than the US meaning $10B in development is punishing for the Russian budget but not unusual for US combat jet budgets.



Pete said...

Hi Josh, KQN and Anonymous

Feel free to battle jet fighter issues out amongst yourselves as you know more (or research more on) jets than I do.

I'll occasionally do articles on jets and occasionally comment.

But I need to stick mainly to submarines and naval. Otherwise I'd need to create an additional blog "Jetfighter Matters" which I don't want to do.



Anonymous said...

Many feel that Cognitive EW is no more than the latest marketing buzzword to justify the Trillion dollar F35 program in the face of continuing software delays.

I do agree with Pete and others that the PAK FA will likely be delayed, and with every delay, one has to question how relevant it will be in the long run to Russia given the coming of long range stealthy UCAV platforms.

Pete said...

Hi KQN [29/1/16 12:29AM]

Also the sheer cost of PAK FA and lack of defined missions (over Syria? counter-insurgency?) plays against completing the PAK FA project. The cost is daunting for the stretched Russian defence budget.

This is compared to the F-22 had sound mission beginnings as an advanced Flanker killer in the Cold War https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_F-22_Raptor#Origins . The US also had tons of cash to fund the program in the 1980s.



Anonymous said...

"Many feel that Cognitive EW is no more than the latest marketing buzzword to justify the Trillion dollar F35 program in the face of continuing software delays."

AI is an up-and-coming technology:


that will eventually affect just about every aspect of human society, including warfare.

As for the F-22, the fact that it's available in only limited numbers will be a problem if we have to fight multiple wars simultaneously, or if we get into a conflict with a power such as China, which can field overwhelming numbers of aircraft.



"[The RAND study] analyzed a U.S.-China air war over Taiwan made the bold
assumption that every air-to-air missile fired from a U.S. F-22 hit a
Chinese fighter (100 percent kill rate) and that every Chinese missile
missed the U.S. F-22s (0 percent kill rate). In their simulation, the
United States still lost the fight. The F-22s ran out of missiles and the
Chinese fighters were able to go after vulnerable tankers and command and
control aircraft. A far more detailed simulation the following year
showed the same results. Even though U.S. F-22s were pegged with a 27-to-1 qualitative advantage over Chinese fighters, their diminished numbers and
the fact that they had to fight from long range meant the Chinese had
vastly superior numbers and won the fight."

Hence, the interest in "missile trucks" which can provide fire support for the limited number of available F-22s. An early example of this concept was the proposed B-1R:


When it became clear the B-1R wasn't going to be built, the use of longer-ranged missiles on the existing B-1s was considered:



"One of the recommendations by RAND in its latest study on Chinese air power,
is to arm the B-1 bomber with 20 or more Patriot or SM-2 missiles in air-to-
air role to engage Chinese fighters during a conflict in Taiwan.

This strategy will allow the USAF to engage a large number of Chinese
fighters beyond the range of their missiles and disengage before any
survivors can react."

The new LRS-B bomber is also being studied as a potential missile truck:



"As part of the Air-Sea Battle Concept, the LRS-B could act as a large
missile platform working in concert with the F-22 and F35. Both smaller
aircraft have limited internal bay capability and limited range. Upon
confronting enemy air defenses during interdiction and anti-fleet
operations, the smaller aircraft could act as spotters while a LRS-B
defeats the initial wave of interceptors with air-to-air missiles,
allowing the F-35 and F-22s to retain their weapons and carry a larger
amount of strike weaponry."

UCAVs are also being considered for this role, especially by the Navy, since UCAVs can be launched from carriers, while the LRS-B cannot:


It all sounds nice. But there's a problem!

[continued on next post]

Anonymous said...


That problem is; the proliferation of stealth technology.

In addition to the Indo-Russian Stealth fighter effort:


The Chinese, Japanese, South Koreans, and even the Turkish are working on their own Stealth designs:





Some of these projects will implode when it's discovered just how difficult and expensive it is to build a stealth aircraft.

But eventually, air battles will increasingly feature stealth fighters on both sides, which will shorten detection ranges and increase the chance of a close-in dogfight.

This will deny us the luxury of showering our foes with long range AMRAAM shots before they get close.

Once that happens, the F-35, with it's poor dogfight performance, will be in trouble, but then again, so will everyone else, since all these new fighters will have helmet-mounted sights linked to all-aspect IR AAMs with high off-boresight capability. This will cause loss rates to approach 1:1 no matter what kind of fancy stealth tech the fighters have.

Of course other technologies, such as lasers and AI, will also affect the situation, but it's too soon to determine exactly how.

As for the shape of future air battles, the only certainty is uncertainty.

Pete said...

Hi Anonymous [at 30/1 5:17PM and 30/1 5:16 PM]

That's a loooonnng comment.

Very interesting, with a twist at the end.

I turn it into an article next week.



Anonymous said...

"That's a loooonnng comment."

So long it had to be broken up into 2 posts. :)

"Then around 2030 the US will permit Lockheed Martin to export what customers
really wanted in the first place - that is a cheaper lower spec version of the

By the 2030's the new 6th generation fighter(s) will be ready (hopefully):






Though considering the cost overruns and delays with the F-22 & F-35 programs, I have my doubts. I just hope we can afford enough of them to have an effective force, though in order to do that, they'll probably have to be heavily supplemented by UCAVs,
with the manned aircraft functioning mostly as "bot herders".