We talk a lot about China's stealth jets here at Killer Apps because, well, they're interesting. That being said, we haven't heard much about Russia's growing fleet of stealth fighters lately. The fourth Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA, as Russia's stealth jet is called, just completed the longest flight in the type's history.
The fourth T-50 took to the skies for the first time in early December 2012, according to Sukhoi. Then on January 17, the twin-engine jet then made the roughly 4,000-plus mile flight between the Sukhoi factory at Komsomolsk-on-Amur and an airfield just outside of Moscow with "several intermediate stops," according to a Sukhoi press release.
The very first T-50 flew in January 2010, the second in March 2011, and the third in August 2012. The first two jets lacked weapons systems and advanced avionics and were simply used to prove that the T-50's design was sound -- aka, that it would fly. The third jet is reportedly being used to test the advanced sensors, including an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, that are hallmarks of modern stealth jets.
The T-50 isn't quite as stealthy as the United States' F-22 Raptor, against which it's designed to compete. Russian engineers reportedly decided to trade stealthiness for better maneuverability than the Raptor. This tradeoff may also keep the cost of the jet lower -- a key selling point since Sukhoi plans to offer an export version of the T-50 for sale around the world as a competitor to the U.S.-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the only other stealth jet that is currently being marketed worldwide. (We're still waiting to see if China offers up its J-20 or J-31 stealth fighters for sale abroad.)
Sukhoi is already working with India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to develop a twin-seat version of the T-50 for the Indian air force that would enter production around 2020. The Russian version of the jet is supposed to enter service with the Russian air force later this decade.
John Reed reports on the frontiers of cyber war and the latest in military technology for Killer Apps.