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Will Russian 6th-gen fighters surprise the world, or will they hide ‘under the covers’?

This post was published in Free Press. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – The famous Russian brands Sukhoi and MiG, forgetting about the eternal competition in the aircraft construction market, are ready to join forces to create a sixth generation fighter.

This was stated by the industrial director of the aviation complex of the state corporation “Rostec” Anatoly Serdyukov, and the deputy director of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) Ilya Tarasenko, actively discussing this topic in the Russian and foreign media. Experts argue that the country that will be the first to create a sixth generation fighter will receive military superiority.

Not only Russia has announced its intentions to produce the next generation fighter; similar developments are also being made in the United States, China, Great Britain, Italy, Sweden, Japan, Germany, Spain, France and Taiwan. All of them have had some success in creating the jet of the future.

At the same time, fighters of the fifth (already “outdated”?) Generation have so far only the United States – the F-22 and F-35, Russia – the Su-57 and China – the J-20 and J-31 (under testing). All of them have both a number of advantages and disadvantages – some are more “invisible”, others are faster and more maneuverable.

The Russian “five” Su-57, which was supposed to replace the MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters, has not yet gone into mass production. Plans to build 67 of these aircraft for the Russian Aerospace Forces were thwarted by the crash of a test fighter at the end of 2019. It is likely that production will nevertheless resume in full and the declared number of Su-57s will be supplied to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, while the Ministry of Defense does not force events and does not require the prompt implementation of plans. There are several reasons for this.

First, the Air Force is still satisfied with the available fighters, upgraded to the 4 ++ state, which may well compete in the skies with the same American F-35. These are the Su-35S with a controlled thrust vector (as a transitional model between the Su-27 and Su-57), and the MiG-29SMT, which is called timeless due to modernization and new missiles, and the MiG-31BM high-altitude interceptor, and the Su-30SM multifunctional fighters.

That is, there is still something to restrain the enemy in the sky. Secondly, military pilots want to receive from the manufacturer an already “polished” fighter, including those with new, not transitional, engines. Thirdly, the Air Force is waiting for a more advanced fighter that would meet modern requirements for combat aviation.

Such a promising fighter, which can already be ranked as the sixth generation, according to experts, should have a number of features. These include the ability to perform combat missions both with and without human assistance, the presence of radio photonic radars, movement at hypersonic speeds and the ability to fly in near-earth space – near space. It is also expected to be equipped with laser weapons. That is, the sixth generation fighter will strive to surpass the capabilities of the already existing fifth generation combat aircraft.

PJSC Sukhoi Company announced its plans to develop the “six” back in 2016, when the “five” Su-57 still had very vague prospects. The engineers of the MiG design bureau also did not stand still, which at the MAKS-2015 airshow presented an aircraft known as “product 1.44” – a multifunctional front-line fighter (MFI). According to aircraft designer Hovhannes Mikoyan, who was directly involved in its creation, the new fighter could get the name MiG-35. However, in the end, the MFI was removed from the “distance”, and the MiG-35 multifunctional fighter was the result of a deep modernization of the MiG-29M / M2 combat aircraft, the first of which entered service with the Air Force in 2019.

Speaking about the current plans to consolidate the assets of Sukhoi and MiG into a single military aviation unit, which is still in the stage of operational transformation (according to UAC Deputy Director Tarasenko), one can recall the fate of MFIs. Its history is both unique and dramatic at the same time. Looking ahead, we note that “product 1.44” became a victim of a competitive struggle between two domestic manufacturers of combat aircraft, when in the end the priority was given to “product T-50” (Su-57), and the “flare” was hidden under a cloth.

Work on the creation of this fighter began even earlier than on the potential American rival F-22 Raptor (the first tests began back in 1986 at the NIK Air Force range near Aktyubinsk). The American flies with might and main (its production was already stopped, giving way to the F-35), and the Russian MFI took to the skies only once, on February 29, 2000.

The air combat vehicle, which for many years was considered super-secret, was practically not shown to anyone, and in recent years it has generally been gathering dust under a cover at the LII airfield. M. Gromov. Test pilot, Hero of Russia Vladimir Gorbunov, the only pilot who lifted the MFI into the sky, until now keeps a “military secret” and tells practically nothing about this aircraft.

Product 1.44 was developed according to the formula of three Cs: speed, stealth and super-maneuverability. Despite the fact that the characteristics were kept secret, it was known that he could reach speeds of up to 2900 km / h and maintain a cruising supersonic speed. The flight altitude of the fighter, equipped with two engines of the Moscow JSC “Lyulka-Saturn” (PJSC “UEC_Saturn“), could reach 20,000 kilometers.

According to its combat characteristics, the MFI could withstand ten enemy aircraft in an air battle. The fighter was considered inconspicuous – coating technology that absorbs radar waves allowed it to “camouflage” no worse, if not better, than the American “invisible” F-22.

The deployment of weapons was also transformed at the MFI – it did not have the usual suspension for bombs and missiles. All weapons are hidden inside the hull of the heavy fighter. Even a variant of the cargo compartment in the upper part of the fuselage, figuratively speaking, on the roof of the aircraft, was being worked out, which could facilitate the launch of missiles at over-flying targets and during overload maneuvers.

But due to the rather large weight of the missiles, the idea had to be abandoned – special cranes would be required when reloading at the airfield. As a result, the weapons compartment was placed in the usual lower part of the fuselage, but in a closed hull.

I should have received a new generation MFI and radar with a phased array antenna – much more efficient than conventional radars with a rotating antenna mirror. A novelty was also a “rear view” antenna, which allows detecting targets in the rear hemisphere and giving target designation to missiles, including those with a reverse launch – launched in the opposite direction from the fighter’s course.

“He flew well, showed himself excellently in flight, this fighter should have a great future. Moreover, the plane was already awaited by the troops, – said aircraft designer Hovhannes Mikoyan. – However, funding was curtailed – the times for the military-industrial complex in the early 1990s were not the best. Leading experts left, the money was dissolved in some unknown place. MFIs, in fact, were forced to mothball. And then the preference was given to another fighter – the T-50. You know the result – the MFI does not fly, and supplies to the Su-57 troops have not begun.”

The possible combination of Sukhoi and MiG efforts may well lead to the creation of a Russian sixth generation fighter – taking into account the previous experience of each company. This does not mean that they will try to cross a snake and a hedgehog, resulting in a coil of barbed wire, but they will take all the best from each previous Su and MiG model. The Su-57, for example, has already learned how to interact with the S-70 Okhotnik unmanned aerial vehicle, which is a sine qua non for a next-generation fighter, whose pilot will direct the UAV to areas where he himself cannot move safely.

The modernized MiG-31BM fighter-interceptor, which is in service with the Russian Aerospace Forces, has a speed of more than 3 thousand kilometers per hour, with the ability to climb to an altitude of more than 25 thousand kilometers. Developed to replace the MiG-41 [expected to enter the troops in 2025], the estimated speed will be 4500 km / h and it will be able to shoot down satellites and ballistic missiles in near space. It is possible to “extract from the chest” and the mentioned “product 1.44”, in which a lot of innovative things were laid.

In general, the Sukhoi plus MiG tandem is able to lay the foundation for the subsequent production of a sixth generation fighter for the Russian Aerospace Forces by joint efforts. Both the time and the cost of financing the “fighter of the future” will be cut.

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