Sukhoi, the legendary Russian aerospace firm, is reportedly developing a brand new 5th generation stealth fighter for Russia’s armed force.
The Russian state-owned news agency TASS quoted a Sukhoi employee with knowledge of the fighter’s general characteristics, explaining that the lightweight fighter would have a single-engine and a take-off weight of approximately 18 tons.
Furthermore, the jet would have a “maximum flight speed of more than Mach 2, and also have super-maneuverability and improved take-off and landing characteristics due to the deflected vector of the engine thrust, a thrust-to-weight ratio aircraft at least one.”
A senior Russian aerospace official also reportedly claimed that the product of this new initiative would be optionally manned.
One Twitter sleuth discovered photos of the proposed fighter, which seem to confirm a stealthy, single-engine design. However, note we have not been able to independently confirm this.
Russia and Stealth: A Tough History
This fighter would not be Russia’s first foray into stealthy airframe designs. During the 1980s, the Soviet Union embarked on an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful project that was to produce a stealthy fighter that could counter what would become the United States’ potent fighter, the F-22 Raptor.
That project produced the Mikoyan Project 1.44, a one-off technology demonstrator that incorporated 5th generation characteristics, including some stealth mitigating airframe design features as well as more advanced avionics and supermaneuverability. The project, hampered by the collapse of the Soviet Union, resulted in just a single prototype about a decade later than planned. The airplane reportedly flew just once, likely canceled due to a lack of funding.
Around a decade later, the Su-57 successfully completed its maiden flight with the Russian Air Force. Compared to the previous Project 1.44, the Su-57 featured a number of improvements was likely much stealthier, though it is likely to be less stealthy than its 5th generation American counterparts, the F-35 and F-22.
Though the Su-57 is a much more capable fighter than the previous Project 1.44, the Russian Air Force has thus far purchased the multi-role fighter in only limited numbers due to its price tag, though they may purchase dozens more in the future.
That Cost Problem
So while a single-engined stealth fighter — on paper roughly analogous to the United States’ F-35 — sounds like a great idea, serious questions remain about the project’s viability. While it is true that Russia is in the highly exclusive club of countries that have designed and built a 5th generation stealth fighter, their Su-57’s stealth capabilities have thus far been considered inferior to the United States’ designs. Furthermore, it remains unclear how this new project will be financed, considering the difficulties the Russian Defense Ministry has already experienced in acquiring the Su-57.
On the other hand, the United States’ 6th generation fighter, a product of the Next Generation Air Dominance program, has already taken to the skies and reportedly broken records in the process. The Russian it seems, have a bit of catching up to do.
Caleb Larson is a defense writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.