The news of the demonstration of a new Russian aircraft at MAKS, supported by photographs leaked to the Internet and a video from Rostec, stirred up the world's aviation circles. For a long time, you must admit, there were no new products, so the video "came in" and caused a very violent reaction.
This is good, because you know that summer is a very dull time. And then there is such a reason, but not from someone there, but from the Sukhoi company, where they know how to make (combat) aircraft. So there was no way to pass by.
And since they did not pass by, it means that it is necessary to discuss. And, to my great delight, almost all overseas publications that can be respected have given the novelty a fraction of their attention. This is The Popular Mechanics, and The National Interest, and The Drive, and Naval Aviation News (well, God himself ordered that) - in general, everyone spoke out. We just have to make some compilation of what the potential gentlemen have expressed and try to assimilate this as information.
Of course, everyone went through the title of the video, where it was written that this is a fundamentally new plane. Some with humor, and some with poison, the Americans asked about the same question: what is the fundamental novelty of the aircraft based on? A new principle of flight? Antigravity, maybe?
But the video and the photos that appeared a little later were all studied very carefully. And this is what the American experts saw. It is worth recalling, however, that the United States does not consider the Su-57 to be the fourth generation aircraft (they have such an order, by one less) generation, and even more so, they do not consider it a competitor to the F-35. For many reasons, there is no point in listing them now.
A preliminary analysis of American experts says that photographs of the product, code-named "Check and checkmate", do not fully make it clear whether this is a mock-up or a real plane. Everyone is looking forward to the show in Zhukovsky at MAKS, because this is the only way to draw conclusions about what the car is (or its full-size model).
Most of the details are hidden by black panels, but the circular engine nozzle is visible in the rear view and roller. One thing. This in some way confirms the rumors that this aircraft will be light and single-engine.
In general, even last year (May 26), TASS issued a report that the Sukhoi company was developing the first Russian lightweight single-engine tactical fighter with supersonic speed and low radar signature. According to the same article, the aircraft will have a take-off weight of up to 18 tons, fly at more than Mach 2 and have a thrust vectoring engine.
The mischievous guys from The Drive noticed, however, that they could not be sure that the plane seen in Zhukovsky was the same Sukhoi design, which was mentioned in the message. But in general, in fairness, the plane seems to match the description.
The Americans note that not a single new Russian single-engine fighter has been built since the Cold War, and since then the country has been cool about purchasing any new aircraft of this class.
Hence, our potential concludes that the new fighter is aimed directly at the export market, possibly as an unobtrusive high-tech successor to the MiG-35, the last member of the Cold War MiG-29 family.
That was the impression the Americans were impressed by the PR campaign, which included an English-language teaser on Twitter and a video featuring Air Force pilots from the United Arab Emirates, India, Vietnam and Argentina. The video clearly indicates that this is primarily an export proposal.
In reality, a number of countries may be serious about buying a single-engine combat aircraft than the Russian military, who prefer heavier but reliable twin-engine aircraft.
It is especially interesting for buyers if the offer is a stealth fighter, in the creation of which the same technologies were used as for the Su-57. But lighter in terms of weight, that in terms of price and cost of maintenance.
Indeed, to date, the Su-57 has not really interested any country, and attempts to sell it have not been crowned with success. Even India refused, which has always been more focused on the Russian arms market.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that the successful family of Su-30 multipurpose fighters received many orders and it turned out that the best is the enemy of the good. And this can explain the lack of interest in the newest Su-57 and the desire to acquire the Su-30 and its modifications.
Apart from the F-35, which was designed to meet the unique requirements of three applications, including the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version, all other so-called fifth generation fighters that have made any significant progress to date have adopted a twin-engined layout.
By choosing a single-engine layout, United Aircraft Corporation will hope to reduce overall cost and complexity and potentially challenge single-engine competitors in the export market, such as the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder.
For some reason, the Americans do not consider the new aircraft a competitor to their single-engine F-16 and the Swedish Gripen.
From this point of view, a single engine decision might make sense, but it is unclear which engine was chosen for the aircraft. The new-generation Izdeliye 30 engine would be an obvious solution, if we believe what the Russian media has published, the Izdeliye 30 has more power and increased reliability compared to the AL-41F1 turbofan engine currently used in the Su-57.
However, the "Product 30", which is expected to produce about 16-17 tons of thrust, is currently still in development. In the meantime, it is likely that the AL-41F1, which produces about 14.5 tons of thrust, will be used in the new fighter temporarily, like on the Su-57. Yes, the AL-41F1, like the "Product 30", has a controlled thrust vector, but with this engine, both the Su-57 and the new aircraft lose almost half of their market appeal.
In Russia, there has even been talk in the past about another potential new design for the STOVL (vertical take-off and landing) fighter, which would presumably include a single-engine lift-fan configuration like the F-35B.
However, domestic demand for vertical takeoff and landing fighters is currently severely limited, especially given the status of the sole aircraft carrier of the Russian Navy, although the two planned amphibious assault ships may have the potential to complete fixed-wing aviation operations. Moreover, it is doubtful whether there will be much foreign interest in this type of aircraft.
What else could the Americans consider?
The engine intake, in particular, is a mystery to them. From some angles, the hidden aircraft appears to have side air intakes similar to those found on the F-22, or the continuously variable supersonic intake (DSI) found on the F-35. In at least one profile view, as noted by Aviation Week Defense Editor Steve Trimble, the plane even appears to have a pentagon-shaped air intake that starts just below the front of the cockpit canopy.
This DSI scheme will be similar to a tabletop model of an unknown fighter design that appeared on the desk of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov late last year.
The fuselage appears to use a mixed wing / hull configuration common to most new generation fighter types, with a prominent chin running along the centerline, and possibly includes prominent vortex controllers or levkons, as on the Su-57. These moving surfaces serve to increase lift and maneuverability at low speeds, and on the Su-57 are reported to also increase maneuverability at supersonic speeds.
Obviously, the same steps were taken in the design of the new aircraft.
The chassis on the new fighter looks very realistic, such a chassis even makes you think that this is not a mock-up. For several generations, Russian ground-based fighters have been equipped with a super-powerful landing gear that allows them to fly from poorly prepared surfaces. The complexity of the mechanism indicates that this car is indeed a prototype and not a full-size model.
The cockpit canopy is clearly visible, but there is a perception in the American circle that there is a possibility that at some point the new fighter could also be installed in an unmanned configuration. The Americans again refer to the TASS article from May last year, which said that the aircraft being developed by Sukhoi "can be a universal platform in manned and unmanned versions."
Such a program could possibly use the technology developed for the S-70 Okhotnik unmanned combat aircraft, which Sukhoi is developing as part of the so-called Strike Reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle program.
Thus, it is possible that unmanned or possibly manned variants of this design could work alongside manned aircraft as a loyal wingman or as independent unmanned aerial vehicles. While this may be an exciting-sounding concept, it is more difficult to implement than it sounds.
As expected, the Americans were interested in the relatively narrow, conformal weapon compartment located in front of the chassis. With only one angle at our disposal, it is difficult to draw many clear conclusions, but it seems to be best suited for air-to-air missiles, probably short to medium range. This is similar to the design of the Su-57, which has compartments on each side for short-range air-to-air missiles. Presumably, given the thicker dimensions of the central fuselage, the new aircraft will also have an under-fuselage compartment for weapons.
Being able to offer an economical fighter jet with some subtle characteristics and advanced sensors and avionics on the international market would be a significant coup, but there is little evidence that Russia can do it on its own without sacrificing other major defense initiatives. To this end, Russia is probably looking for a foreign partner to work together, which compensates for at least a significant part of the development costs. Once again, by using as much of the lessons learned and even the subsystems and components of the Su-57 program, the risk could be reduced, and the cost of such a program could become a little less complex, but to implement the program over several years it would still have to use significant resources.
However, it is important that Russia believes it can enter the world market in the light to medium weight fighter category, which was previously dominated by either cheaper designs such as the JF-17 or modernized Cold War jet aircraft such as F-16.
After all, there may well be a market for a cheaper alternative to the F-35, then in reality Moscow will not hunt for many potential customers. There are potential customers, such as Algeria, Egypt and Vietnam, who will be interested in such an aircraft.
However, very nicely, Americans remind those who read their publications that there is such a program as countering America's adversaries with the help of the Sanctions Act or CAASTA, which imposes sanctions on countries that buy military equipment from Russia (and other US opponents). unless a specific refusal to supply similar equipment from the USA is provided. India, for example, was forced to receive a refusal to purchase Russian-made S-400 air defense systems, and this may complicate the acquisition of this aircraft for some countries.
If the customer is unable to buy the F-35 for political or budgetary reasons and can bypass the CAASTA obstacles, the Russian fighter will still face competition from other advanced types of light and medium fighters, provided they continue production. These include offers from China, South Korea and Turkey, to name just three.
Considering all that has been said, American experts will follow with undisguised interest what will happen at MAKS.
And by the way, the Americans, consummate PR masters, believe that the marketing campaign around the presentation of this aircraft was quite professional. But opinions on the other side of the ocean were divided. Roughly half-and-half between those who believe that the new prototype is just a model, a full-size model, the most complex, but a model. Opponents believe that this is a real model of the aircraft.
Only a demonstration flight in Zhukovsky can confirm or deny. So we are waiting for the opening of MAKS-2021 and the flight of the new aircraft.