Sukhoi T-50 (PAK FA) 5th Generation Multi-Role Stealth Aircraft
The Sukhoi PAK FA is a Fifth Generation multi-role aircraft intended to compete directly with the American Lockheed F-22 Raptor.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The PAK FA (or "PAK[FA]") is currently in development with the storied Sukhoi OKB, a Russian aircraft firm granted origins in the dark days of World War 2 (1939-1945) and having since contributed many designs to the Soviet Air Force and Army in the Cold War years following. The PAK FA T-50 is categorized as a "Fifth Generation Fighter" recognizing that it will make use of the latest aviation technology, radar-absorbing materials and weaponry to provide for excellent performance, agility and response for the unseen conflicts ahead. As a Fifth Generation fighter, the T-50 is challenging the realm currently dominated by the American Lockheed F-22 "Raptor" air superiority fighter - the world's first 5th gen fighter aircraft. The arrival of the T-50 introduces a second player to the once exclusive "Fifth Generation Club", owned wholly by the United States, while China continues development of their own indigenous 5th gen fighter across the Pacific.
In the Russian, "PAK FA" translates to "Future Air Complex - Tactical Air Forces". The T-50 has been developed somewhat jointly through a partnership between Russia and India to which India has contributed as much as 35% to date. The Indian intent is to benefit from the program by procuring their own PAK FA-based 5th gen fighter in the coming decade. Serial production for the T-50 is slated for 2015 and the first public unveiling of the prototype was shown during the MAKS 2011 Air Show just outside of Moscow in August of 2011. Four prototypes has been completed to date (2013) with a fifth under construction. State trials are expected for 2014.
The Near Future
In the Russian inventory, the PAK FA will move in to take over the roles held by the large Sukhoi Su-27/Su-37 "Flanker" family as well as the lightweight Mikoyan MIG-29 "Fulcrum" (all 4th Generation Fighters). Both of these lines have gone on to see much use in the global market resulting in a myriad of variants and configurations. The PAK FA will also move along the joint Russian-Indian FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft) program for the near future - an agreement reached between the two nations in 2001 - with results expected to be introduced sometime in 2015. This aircraft and will be based highly on the developmental findings of the Russian PAK FA/T-50 program with India intending to purchasing some 250 FGFA fighters at project's end.
The T-50 Prototype
The current PAK FA prototype is designated as the "T-50". As a multi-role aircraft, the PAK FA will be charged with both air superiority and ground attack roles as well as aerial reconnaissance by way of specialized onboard equipment. Her design will provide excellent performance within her altitude limitations and make possible operations in both day/night as well as adverse weather conditions. Sukhoi intends on making her an equally-lethal performer in all of her defined roles. Dimensionally, the PAK FA will reflect the size of the other proven Sukhoi flagship product, the Su-27 Flanker.
By the end of the Cold War, the need to replace Russia's high-performance "do-everything" fighters became more apparent to authorities. Several projects were enacted to find solutions for a next generation craft and two such programs produced the Mikoyan MiG "1.44" and the Sukhoi Su-47 "Berkut" (the latter formerly known as the S-32 as well as S-37). The MiG 1.44 became a highly-secretive technology demonstrator and achieved first flight on February 29th, 2000. She was intended to compete directly with the American Lockheed F-22 Raptor in the air superiority role. The MiG 1.44 sported forward canards with an underfuselage split air intake similar to the Eurofighter 2000. The Sukhoi Su-47 Berkut was the other technology demonstrator though it had the greater possibility of seeing full-scale production. Most notable of the type was its forward-swept wing arrangement (ala the Grumman X-29 concept) and decidedly large Sukhoi-brand dimensions. The Su-47 achieved first flight on September 25th, 1997 and was formally unveiled in January of 2000. Only a single known example of the Su-47 was ever built while two examples of the MiG 1.44 (the other being the similar MiG 1.42/42) was known to exist. Both were powered by a dual engine layout and much information garnered from the proceeding in-flight tests have played a role in the development of the PAK FA.
In the early part of 2002, Sukhoi was selected to head up the design of Russia's new Fifth Generation Fighter. By the start of 2003, other minority contract winners were announced to design, develop and construct applicable components such as the avionics suite and engine powerplants as well as the understructure and final assembly systems. Production of the very first aircraft was started by August 2007 with the goal of having three such flyable systems on hand by the beginning of 2009. Some inevitable delays followed throughout 2009, resulting in a first flight date achieved on January 29th, 2010 - this lasting some forty-seven minutes and achieving all required goals. The first flight itself was delayed from January 28th due to bad weather in the region. A second flight followed soon afterwards, on February 6th, and a third flight was recorded on February 12th. These serve to indicate the relative readiness of the PAK FA project up to this point.
PAK FA Walk-Around
Though a wholly internal Russian design at its core, Western observers are quick to note the PAK FAs resemblance to the existing Lockheed product sporting long lines, sharp angles and broad shapes to suspect the Russians were keenly observing American developments throughout the 1990s quite closely. When viewed from the front profile, the PAK FA shows off its F-22-like faceted fuselage design with a high-mounted, high vision single-seat cockpit. The cockpit is set a distance aft of the nose cone assembly which houses the radar facility. The PAK FA makes use of a blended wing upper fuselage which promotes a large "pancake" style body surface area. Just under and beneath each side of fuselage centerline are the two rectangular intakes aspirating the twin engine configuration. The intakes are noticeably angled inwards. The main wings are set a ways aft from the design's centerpoint and features clipped wingtips while each assembly showcases swept leading and trailing edges. The main wings are complimented by a smaller set of all-moving horizontal planes immediately aft. The vertical tail fins are well-spaced apart and cranked outwards from centerline, each unit being all-moving surfaces with clipped tips and of a rather small surface area. Each engine exhausts at the rear within the vertical tail area and a stinger type assembly protrudes between the powerplants ala the Su-27/Su-35. The engines are purposefully spaced well apart to allow for a large internal weapons bay and provide thrust vectoring for maximum agility. This is aided by the small, all-moving tailplanes - an advantage not seen in the American F-22. The undercarriage is of a conventional tricycle layout with two main single-wheeled landing gear legs and a double-wheeled nose landing gear leg. The main legs retract into the intake sides whilst the nose leg retracts behind and beneath the cockpit floor.
The PAK FA makes use of radar-absorbing materials to achieve its stealth as well as onboard counter systems and structural design. The engines allow for supercruise travel, achieving supersonic flight without the need for thirsty, radar/missile-attracting afterburner (also known as "reheat"). The advanced Active Phased Radar Array (APRA) system is being developed by the Fazatron-NIIR Corporation and will offer both forward-looking and side-scanning capabilities - similar in scope to the Irbis radar found on the Sukhoi Su-35BM Flanker. The complete system (involving multiple linked radar systems) is being tested on an existing aircraft (though not a T-50 prototype). Capabilities will allow for the tracking and engagement of multiple targets simultaneously, be they ground- or air-based. The cockpit will be "all-glass" in nature and digitally-minded compared to any previous Russian offering. The onboard computer network will actively work to correct in-flight stability issues and help the pilot by reducing workloads. The wings have been given leading-edge flaps which handle lift at higher angles of attack while being completely adjustable as the aircraft's speed dictates. Ailerons will support low speed flight and handling while flaperons will assist in low-speed lift on approaches or take-off.
Powerplant and Performance
Power for the T-50 is being supplied by 2 x NPO Saturn AL-41F (Type 117) turbofan engines offering 33,050lbs of thrust each. Finalized production versions will be given a 40,000lb thrust version (Type 30) that is slated to appear in 2020. Thrust-vectoring will be standard and allow for the required agility. Authorities cite a maximum speed of approximately Mach 2 (1,330mph) while cruising will be at 1,120mph. Listed ferry range is 3,400 miles with an operational service ceiling of 65,000 feet. The airframe will support forces of up to 9g. The PAK FAs original listed speed was Mach 2.35 which was then reduced to Mach 2.1 and, ultimately, Mach 2.
Largely under wraps as of 2013, the PAK FA is presumed to support existing and in-development air-to-air and air-to-surface ordnance (the T-50 prototype is not outfitted with weapons as this point). Standard armament will be one or two 30mm GSh-301 series cannons. Six internal hardpoints will be available as well as up to six external hardpoints. The internal hardpoints will be set across the two (perhaps four in finalized production forms) internal weapons bays found under the fuselage. There has been confirmed support for the Kh-35E (AS-20 "Kayak") anti-ship missile, the R-77 RVV-MD (AA-12 "Adder") air-to-surface missile, the Kh-58UShKE (AS-11 "Kilter") anti-radiation missile and the Kh-38ME air-to-surface missile. Of course these are in-service missiles that will greet the PAK FA during its early operational years. It is expected that specially-developed munitions will come online into the next decade exclusively for use in the PAK FA family.
In August of 2012, the T-50 prototype began flight testing its Active, Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) radar suite.
August 2012 - The Russian and Indian governments are scheduled to sign an $11 billion dollar contract for India to receive its share of the PAK FA program, this in the form of a prototype example expected to be delivered sometime before 2014. This PAK FA derivative will include development by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and is known under the project title of "Perspective Multi-Role Fighter".
January 2014 - The Russian Air Force expects to purchase some 74 fighters (including the required prototypes for testing/evaluation) into 2020. A production facility is expected to be erected at Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
April 2014 - A sixth trial T-50 aircraft will be delivered to the Russian Air Force in 2014 with two more expected during 2015.
June 2014 - A fire was reported on the fifth PAK-FA prototype, resulting in considerable damage around the center mass of the airframe. It is believed to have been started in the right engine.
July 2016: It was announced that the T-50 prototypes had completed their initial flight tests by Sukhoi covering some 700 total flights. These examples will now move into state testing.
January 2017 - Five T-50 aircraft will be passed on to Russian forces for state testing. This is the final step before serial production is ordered.
March 2017 - Reports indicate that the T-50 may enter service later than the expected 2018 date. This will force the Russian Air Force to proceed with plans to purchase the more modern, advanced version of the Flanker.
July 2017 - A new Russian rearmament plan is set to focus on procurement of the first T-50 fighter lot for the Russian Air Force with deliveries set to begin in 2018. State testing is ongoing and another pair of prototypes are set for completion before the end of 2017.