Russia’s answer to the US – new next-gen hypersonic interceptors and stealth bombers
MOSCOW, (BM) – Russia’s Air Force modernisation efforts of the past two decades have focused almost exclusively on developing enhanced derivatives of Soviet era airframes to integrate next generation technologies – the Su-35, MiG-29SMT and Tu-22M3M being prime examples.
As many of the country’s adversaries move to further modernise their capabilities and deploy advanced next generation aircraft in the 2020s, Russia’s defence sector has increasingly invested in developing more next generation combat aircraft both to replace older jets in its own inventory and to target export markets.
Many of these ambitious programs appear to be built from the ground up, and are based on entirely new airframes rather than being derived from late Soviet era platforms. Five prominent Russian next generation combat jets which are expected to make their first flights in the 2030s are listed below:
Russia’s answer to the American B-21 Raider and Chinese H-20, and a worthy successor to the Tu-160M which recently reentered production, this next generation intercontinental range strategic bomber is expected to have made its first flight by 2025 at the latest.
The bomber will make use of a wide range of standoff munitions, and is speculated to deploy hypersonic ballistic missiles much as Tu-22M and MiG-31K have done. It remains uncertain on what scale the bomber will built, whether it will be able to fulfil tactical roles such as ship hunting as the Tu-22M currently does, and whether it will deploy air to air munitions as the American B-21 will do.
With the decades long primacy of the Tu-160 facing upcoming challenges from new American and Chinese platforms, a new heavy bomber is needed to restore Russia’s distinct qualitative advantage in the field.
Russia is currently developing an advanced next generation variant of the MiG-29 medium fighter with radar evading capabilities under a joint program with the United Arab Emirates, and the new platform is expected to integrate many of the same technologies as the MiG-35 ‘4++ generation’ fighter which entered service in June 2019.
This program could resemble the Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle program which sought to develop the Cold War era F-15 into a stealth fighter, and is likely to inherit the MiG-35’s thrust vectoring engines, powerful sensor suite, low maintenance requirements and access to next generation munitions such as the R-37M hypersonic missile.
While Russian doctrine does not emphasise the importance of radar cross section reducing profiles on its aircraft, with jets such as the Su-35 and Su-57 incorporating these to a limited extent, a fighter with a greater emphasis on stealth could appeal more to some defence clients.
The MiG-41 conceptually combines the strengths of the Soviet MiG-25 and MiG-31 interceptors, but improves on these considerably with next generation technologies.
The MiG-25 Foxbat was designed to operate at extreme speeds exceeding Mach 3 and at altitudes approaching 30km – making it all but invulnerable to the vast majority of anti aircraft weapons and allowing it to launch air to air missiles with considerable added kinetic energy. The platforms were ideal for intercepting enemy bombers and high flying surveillance aircraft such as the U-2 and SR-71.
The MiG-31 was not capable of reaching the Foxbat’s speeds and altitudes, but emphasised the importance of an extremely powerful sensor suite and standoff munitions capable of engaging targets at extreme ranges with precision – with its R-33 missiles designed to intercept not only enemy aircraft but also low flying cruise missiles.
The MiG-41 will be a hypersonic aircraft, meaning it can exceed speeds of Mach 5, and will deploy heavy and extremely powerful sensors and long ranged hypersonic standoff munitions. The aircraft will be able to operate at altitudes far exceeding even those of the MiG-25, flying in near space and threatening enemy satellites and space planes.
Russia’s Su-57 next generation air superiority fighter entered mass production in July 2019, and advanced prototypes have already seen low intensity combat deployments to the Syrian theatre to test their capabilities. Multiple statements from Russian military sources including the Defence Ministry, however, indicate that the Su-57 program is seen as a long term investment – and that its basic airframe is set to be enhanced considerably in the coming years as next generation technologies continue to be integrated. Some of those already in advanced development stages include Saturn 30 engines, laser weapons, artificial intelligence, hypersonic ballistic missiles and anti gravity suits – which will allow pilots to endure more extreme g forces and perform more difficult manoeuvres.
The aircraft is intended as a sixth generation air superiority fighter, with capabilities well in advance of the current Su-57 design much as the Su-35, which entered service in 2014, was far more advanced than the Su-27 from 1985 on which it was based.
Planned enhancements to the Su-57 design are, if anything, far more ambitious. Based on precedents set by other Russian fighters such as the Su-27, the Su-57 is likely to be renamed as new derivatives are developed – and much as the former was developed into the Su-30, 33, 34 and 35 so too are we likely to see at least one ‘Su-60’ or something with a similar name by the end of the 2020s.
A twin seat Su-57 variant is also a distinct possibility, particularly if the deal for licence production currently under negotiation with India can be finalised due to the South Asian state’s preference for such configurations on its heavyweight jets.
Russian military sources and state media have confirmed work is currently underway on a next generation vertical landing capable fighter – a successor to the Yak-141 platform which had reached an advanced prototype stage before the Soviet collapse and Russian economic crisis forced its cancellation.
The Yak-141 was the most advanced vertical takeoff capable fighter ever developed and such capabilities have long been valued by Russia’s armed forces and have applications in both the Navy and the Air Force. Alongside plans for a new heavyweight aircraft carrier, Russia is planning to build at least two heavy amphibious assault ships which can serve as light carriers displacing between 20,000 and 35,000 tons – the first two of which will be laid down in Crimean shipyards in 2020.
These warships will be able to function as carriers only once specialised vertical landing capable jets are available. While Russian Air Force’s fighters are all designed to deploy from rugged and unkept runways, a vertical landing capable jet could operate with no runway at all – which could be extremely useful after an initial exchange of precision strikes leaves most runways out of service in a war’s initial stages.
Russia inherited a strong technological base from the Soviet Union on which to build a next generation vertical landing capable fighters, and such jets are very likely to include a number of features not seen on the Yak-141 including a radar cross section reducing profile, an AESA radar and access to new standoff munitions such as the new R-37M hypersonic air to air missile. Such aircraft also have a considerable export potential to states such as Thailand and Egypt, which deploy warships that could accommodate such aircraft.
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Source: Military Watch Magazine