Move Over, F-35: Russia Has Raised the Stakes for Next-Generation Fighters
Policy + Politics

Move Over, F-35: Russia Has Raised the Stakes for Next-Generation Fighters

Russia is looking far into the future of war in the air.

In a bid to write the rules of aerial warfare, Russia has at least developed blueprints for sixth- and seventh-generation aircraft -- planes much more advanced than the fifth-generation jets available today, according to top officials.

"They have really come up with the designs for the creation of the sixth-generation fighter,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told TASS News agency on Wednesday. “I’m referring also to new design concepts briefly presented by the Sukhoi design bureau and by the general designer appointed for all aircraft systems and armaments.”

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Air Force chief Colonel General Viktor Bondarev confirmed work “is going on. I can’t say too much [about it],” but he did indicate the cutting-edge platforms would be both manned and unmanned, according to Russia Today.

Sukhoi’s production line is humming these days: The state-controlled company recently signed a slew of deals for its Su-35S multirole fighters with Moscow, China and Indonesia. It’s also testing its fifth-generation fighters, the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA, which are meant to compete directly with the Lockheed Martin-manufactured F-22 Raptor and likely will enter into service before the end of 2016.

The T-50, which can reach Mach 4 in seconds, will also carry anti-ship bombs capable of hitting maritime targets over 150 miles away and will have storage space in its fuselage so that the aircraft can fly sorties without appearing armed.

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A new fighter from Moscow likely wouldn’t be airborne for years, if not decades. But it does raise the stakes for the U.S., which is trying to determine what comes after the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, America’s own fifth-generation warplane.

Last month a top official at Northrop Grumman sketched the company’s vision of what that might look like, proposing a possibly unmanned aircraft complete with lasers and advanced “cyber resiliency,” according to Defense News. Lockheed and Boeing have also started working on their own concepts.

Any U.S. proposal would face incredible scrutiny both inside the Defense Department and on Capitol Hill after the F-35’s troubled development. The program has been, and remains, plagued with technical glitches that have driven its price tag up to around $400 billion, making the jet the most expensive weapons effort in U.S. history.

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A sixth-generation fighter program would be another multibillion addition to the Air Force’s development “to-do” list, which already includes finishing the F-35 effort and developing new tankers and bombers.

Moscow doesn’t seem to have those fiscal concerns, though, and is moving ahead.

"If we stop, we will stop forever,” Bondarev said.