After the failure of the MiG 1. 44 and S-37 prototypes, which were too expensive, the Russians launched the Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsy (PAK-FA) program in 1999, and finalized the specifications in April 2001: the aircraft must be stealthy, capable of supercruise, have ADAC capabilities, have a range of 1,200 km, be highly maneuverable, multirole, have avionics, a data fusion capability and a modern engine, all at an affordable price.
The goal remains the same: to provide a replacement for the MiG-29 and Su-27 capable of opposing the American F-22. Sukhoi, with its T-50, MiG with its MiG E-721, and Yakovlev responded to the tender. On 26 April 2002, Sukhoi was declared the winner, and NPO Saturn was selected for the engine.
In October 2004, Sukhoï transmits its initial project which is accepted only 2 months later. The program is then supervised by Alexander Davydenko. However the credits miss, the project takes delay and stumbles on the engines, the flight controls and the avionics. Whereas the first flight was planned in 2006, only a model is at this period available. At the same time, Vympel is already developing the missiles that will equip the future Russian fighter.
The programme is valued at 360 to 420 billion roubles, or 8 to 10 billion dollars. The year 2007 was devoted to the search for financial partners. Brazil, the first country approached, did not follow. Finally, India, interested in the project, declared itself ready to finance half of it, and officially became a partner in the program on December 22, 2008. The remainder is financed by Sukhoi, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Industry.
In fact, the construction of the first three prototypes began only in December 2007 at the KnAAPO factory (Komsomolsk-on-Amur), while the Su-35BM and the Berkut were used as test benches for some of its equipment. The taxiing tests of the T-50KNS intended for the structural integration tests started on December 22, 2009.
On January 29, 2010, the test pilot Sergey Bogdan made a first flight of 47 minutes at Komsomolsk-on-Amur. This allows for the occasion to unveil through photos and videos posted on the Internet the appearance of the T-50. Indeed, the project has remained confidential for a long time to the point that the design gave rise to numerous speculations.
From the front, the T-50 is reminiscent of the YF-23, while from other angles it looks more like the F-22. It has a diamond-shaped wing, leading edge alignment (with a 53° sweep) and trailing edges, S-shaped air intake veins and one-piece tail fins inclined at 25°. Compared to the Su-27, it is smaller and more compact. Its apexes include a mobile vortex-generating element. The airframe itself is made up of 70% of composite materials. One finds without surprise the cone of tail dear to Sukhoi, placed between 2 spaced engines which contain 2 parachutes of braking. The equivalent surface radar (SER) would be of 0,5m².
From a technical point of view, the visible post on the canopy of the T-50-1 will be absent from the production aircraft. According to the flight simulator presented, the cockpit should have two multifunctional screens and a HUD with a very wide field. It also seems to integrate the HOTAS system as well as a new ejection seat model. The T-50 will be equipped with the Tikhomirov Sh121 radar presented at MAKS 2009. It is equipped with five AESA antennas: one front and two side X-band antennas as well as two L-band antennas located in the leading edges of the wings, a frequency designed to detect stealth aircraft. It has nearly 1,500 modules and is even said to have “artificial intelligence”. It is said to be capable of tracking 30 targets and engaging 8 simultaneously. An optronic ball 101KS-V placed in front of the cockpit will be used for the identification of the targets: it is one of the 6 sensors of the optronic suite 101KS Atoll OEIS, which allow a spherical coverage on 360°. Another sensor named 101KS-O is placed on the top of the fuselage, behind the cockpit.
The aircraft is for the moment propelled by 2 AL-41F1 derived from the AL-31F. Their dry thrust is unknown but it would be of 14,7 tons unit in PC. As for the nozzles, they have a vector thrust in the vertical plane. Nevertheless, by 2020, 16-ton thrust engines should replace them.
The PAK-FA is armed with at least one 30-mm gun (a second is sometimes mentioned) and carries long-range and medium-range K-77M air-to-air missiles, Kh-38M air-to-ground missiles or Kh-58UShK anti-radar missiles. It also has KAB-250 guided bombs weighing 250 kg and equipped with a GPS receiver. 8 to 10 missiles can be carried in two tandem bunkers, 4.7 m long and 1 m wide. The aircraft also comprises 6 points of carriage (4 located under the wings and 2 under the air inlets). A 4.5 meter long fairing located in the apex is likely to contain an air-to-air missile or electronic systems.
To date, 10 prototypes including static test cells have been built, the eleventh being 60% completed in January 2016.
At MAKS 2011, the first 3 prototypes are performing flight presentations. The entire flight envelope is not yet open, but 84 test flights have already been performed. The sound barrier is crossed on March 9, 2011. However, the show allows to notice the presence of reinforcement ribs on the wings of both aircraft, as well as an anti-spin parachute on the T-50-1.
The T-50-1, wearing a camouflage, made a first series of 9 flights before joining the Zhukovsky center on April 8, 2010. On August 31, 2010, no less than 17 flights have already been made by the prototype.
On February 21, 2014, the T-50-2 becomes the first prototype transferred to the Russian Air Force for state testing at Akhtubinsk. The external load tests begin in May 2014.
In June 2014, the T-50-5 prototype suffered an engine fire on landing. However, it can be put back in flight condition after the recovery of a number of components planned for the sixth prototype.
The pre-production aircraft, theoretically equipped with intermediate systems derived from those of the Su-35BM, were to be delivered in 2013 for series production starting in 2015. However, this has been constantly postponed and should only be initiated in 2017 at the earliest, for delivery in 2018.
Russia initially planned to acquire 200 single-seaters, 52 of them before 2020. However, in March 2015, Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov announced that due to a lack of budget, serial production had been postponed and that only the purchase of the first 12 aircraft was currently being considered.
India, which brings its knowledge of composite materials, plans to acquire 50 single-seaters and 144 two-seaters as part of the FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft) program. The Indian version will differ from the Russian version in its dimensions, flight controls, radar and wings. The first Indian models are expected to fly in 2016-2017 and enter service around 2020.
A navalized version is planned for 2020 and an unmanned version for 2018. The unit price of the PAK-FA is estimated at between 70 and 100 million dollars. Sukhoi hopes to sell 1,000 of them over 40 years, not only in Russia and India (200 each) but also 600 to its traditional customers in the Middle East, South America and Asia. It could therefore become a formidable commercial and military competitor, if not to the F-22 at least to the F-35.
In August 2017, the Chief of Staff of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS), Viktor Bondarev officially revealed the designation of the new aircraft: Su-57.
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