The new warplane is to replace fourth-generation fighters, namely, the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker and the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum.
The program caught the public's eye after Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov recently said it must be expedited.
The decision to develop the fifth-generation T-50 fighter was made in the early 2000s. The Sukhoi, Mikoyan-Gurevich and Yakovlev design bureaus, who primarily develop new fighters, offered their concepts. The Sukhoi Design Bureau was eventually awarded the program.
Various maiden flight and delivery deadlines have been mentioned. The fighter is expected to make its appearance sometime between 2008 and 2010. In late 2008, Colonel General Alexandr Zelin, commander of the Air Force, said the warplane would perform its initial flight in August 2009.
Last summer, the fighter's design was approved, and the prototype blueprints were delivered to the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Production Association (KNAAPO), where production will reportedly be sited. Currently, the company is building three experimental fighters for testing. These prototypes are due to last for five or six years. However, a production run will not be launched before 2015.
Although T-50 specifications remain classified, fragmentary data on its engines imply that this heavy-duty fighter will have a take-off weight of more than 30 metric tons and will be close in dimension to the Su-27.
The Tikhomirov Instrument Engineering Research Institute, which designed the Irbis radar system for the Su-35BM Flanker generation four-plus fighter, is now developing the T-50 warplane's radar. It appears that its radar and fire control system will be based on the Su-35BM system.
Although nobody knows what the new fighter will look like, most analysts believe it will closely resemble the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor. However, this cannot be verified at this point.
Under declassified request for proposal (RFP) provisions, the new highly maneuverable fighter will have a supersonic cruise speed, and its weapons will be stored inside the fuselage. Compared with fourth-generation planes, the T-50 will be much less visible in the radio and infrared bands.
The Air Force will be enhanced by these fifth-generation fighters, their weapons and radio-electronic equipment, as well as by ground and airborne combat-support and combat-control systems.
Although the various systems are being developed at different paces and to a varying degree of success, they are vitally important to the T-50 program's success. Without them, the fifth-generation fighter would remain an expensive toy and would fail to expand the combat potential of Air Force units.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.