Sukhoi Makes Her Move?


14-Jan 2014: There are reports that the Indian Air force (who is helping sponsor the development) is unhappy with T-50 own radar performance (air intercept radar) and reportedly a host of other issues as well.

Stealth aircraft require jamming support aircraft to accompany them so they can be stealthy. A stealth fighter is simply a design trend that will burn out (like the 1950s-60s era 'all missile fighter without a gun did) in another decade or so. We'll have to see what the Russians do with T-50? It appears to have worse cockpit visibility than the Fulcrum and Flanker series of fighters. If fielded T-50 will certainly only be as a supplement to the other modernizing fighter fleets in Russia.

At the end of the day, stealth aircraft are becoming increasingly vulnerable to low-frequency radars operating in the VHF and UHF bands.
[Above] Photos of the 5th aircraft in the T-50 test program have appeared. Note new color scheme. OLS-IRST station remains unchanged - as (we) predicted.

31-Mar 2013: It is now clear that the Russian Sukhoi PAK-FA fighter is not to be an all-aspect stealth machine but rather a counter-stealth machine. While it has some stealthy features (just enough) to exploit the poorer target-detect performance of opposing stealth-fighters only equipped with radar (like F-22A) T-50 is also equipped with some decidedly “non-stealthy" sensors like OLS (and second spherical ball behind the cockpit) to detect/attack F-22 outside the radio spectrum. This misread of T-50 has produced some bizarre statements/analysis on the PAK-FA from Western stealth-fighter proponents, including:

"The Electro-Optical System (OLS) turret employed on the prototype is likely the Su-35S OLS, and is incompatible with a VLO design, as it is a broadband spherical reflector. We can expect to see a faceted VLO fairing similar to that designed for the canceled F-22A AIRST (Advanced IRST) in a production PAK-FA configuration.”

These types of observations by western stealth-fighter proponents - are nonsense. The western argument prefers the Russians to copy the west (with all aspect stealth) to validate the overall F-22 concept (that the Americans have yet again set the design trend(s) for high visibility military technology). Otherwise, the western argument will conclude: "they can't because its too expensive." The hard facts are that F-22A will never reach supporters expectations due to basic physics - that have nothing to do with program cost(s).


[Above] Good photo of the 4th PAK-FA  prototype (T50-4) which appeared in the summer of 2012. This was somewhat of a surprise since at the time of our earlier writings, there were rumors of development problems on the first prototype load-bearing structure and a redesign of the structure may have been required pushing additional prototypes - out to 2013. On 17-Jan, this aircraft "054" reportedly completed a long-distance one-way flight from the Komsomolsk production plant to the Zhukovsky military test center (near Moscow) covering some 7,000 km (4300 mi). Impressive.

[Below] These types of renderings began to appear after T-50 was unveiled. Note the artist has deleted the IRST in the false belief that Sukhoi would optimize PAK-FA for the radio spectrum (and remove radio reflectors). The movable foreplanes on T-50 are also not "compatible "with radio-spectrum optimization (VLO).
The program reportedly has stayed under $10 billion dollars. The American DoD should take note regarding its own cost controls for combat aircraft. Even as a percentage of GDP vs defense spending – it’s all real money. The right equipment is not necessarily the most expensive.

Some detail are emerging on what T-50 will reportedly be equipped with including 101KS Atoll Optiko-Elektronnya Interirovannaya Sistema (electro/optical integrated system), 101KS-V (for Vozdukh, air) IRST system (mounted in front of the cockpit), 101KS-N targeting pod (mounted on the underside of the engine air intake), 101KS-U UV sensitive MAWS sensors, 101KS-O (laser-based directional countermeasure sensor against AIM-9 class missiles) DIRCM turret mounted on the upper fuselage. The main radar is the N036 radar system, which comprises five radars: the forward-facing N036-01 X-band AESA radar, two small N036B X-band side radars, and two N036L L-band radars mounted in the wing leading edges. The main radar system is a main part of the Sh121 MIRES (Mnogofunksyonalnaya Integrirowannaya Radio-Elektronnaya Sistema) multi-function integrated radio-electronic system, which also includes the L402 integrated EW system. Also the Polyot S111-N encrypted communication system.

Looking at these reported avionics/sensors for PAK-FA, the aircraft will be a formidable opponent for F-22A aircrews. Nothing says these systems could not be adapted to Su-35S as well.

[Below] Please note unique moving-surfaces blended into leading-edge wing-roots (above each engine intake), appear to be at work. We also see no use of reheat/afterburner. Bottom and inside engine-louvers are also visible.

29-Jan 2010: Sukhoi successful flight test of her new and much anticipated 'T-50/PAK-FA' fighter jet.

New photos and video have become available since the time of this original writing, and a second prototype (T-50-2) has appeared along with a new IRST (OLS) unit:






Excellent new flight and closeup footage of prototype aircraft '51' is now available:






Official Statement from Sukhoi [29-Jan 2010]


[Above] An infra-red search and track (IRST) sensor is clearly visible on the first prototypes as well as [below] a Flanker-like 'louver-system' at the bottom of the engine intake on each engine nacelle. This would seem to indicate 'stealth' as not the – primary design concern? This is consistent with Russian sources that T-50 was not (not) intended to be an all-aspect Stealth design. There appear to be moving/movable surfaces (canards?) where the leading edge meets the fuselage – just above each engine intake.
As more information has become available T-50 may incorporate two additional thin radar panels along (and/or inside) the leading edge of each wing (also seen on advanced Flanker variants). Again, multi-sensor integration (IRST) has been retained. Together with its round conventional exhaust nozzles could classify the T-50 RCS as an aircraft 'defensive in nature.' Our view is T-50 may incorporate just enough stealthily features to give an F-22 detect/targeting problems.

There is growing evidence that the American F-22A exhibits undesirable own-radar targeting performance under some/all/specific operational conditions. We have alluded to this (for some time) as an inherent probability for an overly stealthy air-combat fighter which lacks multi-sensor (wide electromagnetic spectrum) primary targeting.

The careful review of video footage should give some insight into T-50 construction methods and indeed the statement was made that T-50 IS important as a manufacturing vehicle for Russian aerospace. Interestingly a second smaller sphere is visible behind the cockpit which is reportedly an "IR detector."

[Below] T-50 appears to have some similarities to both models at center and the far left?

Reports are still a matter of conjecture, however, T-50 may indeed be based on Flanker. However it appears closer to an F-35 class aircraft with respect to stealth, construction methods, takeoff weight (less than F-22 ) and projected price per copy?





Some Russian sources say T-50 would first replace the aging short range Mig-29 fleet in Russia.


It is true that external stores create much more drag than storing weapons internally. However, internal weapons bays (on small aircraft) use precious space in the airframe, which could be used for fuel?

Carriage restrictions and the demands of Stealthy clean silhouette have been abundantly evident from the American Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) program.

Has drag-reduction of ‘small’ fighters via internal weapons bays been offset by reduced internal fuel capacities? Without supercruise [The use of lower throttle settings for the same given airspeed] does the whole combat-radius discussion unravel?

If T-50 is indeed effectively based on ‘Flanker’ then this issue would be mitigated to some degree.

[Below] During actual operational intercepts, this Raptor and her external drop tanks - are clearly visible.

Even with supersonic cruising, the fuel penalty of internal weapons bays for a small fighter, and so the 'combat persistence penalty - may be high.

[Below] The Sukhoi Su-47 'Berkut' (Су-47 Беркут - Golden Eagle) prototype first flew in 1997. This impressive machine reportedly never saw production but was rather a technology demonstrator.
Russian sources also say weaponry development will take some time. This is understandable. If PAK-FA is put into production she will need to engineer herself through all the issues discussed here?

PAK-FA may have just enough stealth to give an opposing all-aspect stealth fighter (F-22) radar – aerial detect/track problems?

Remember that an all-aspect stealth fighter (an air superiority fighter that defeats radar energy by keeping it from reflecting back to the transmission source) - inherently invites a paradox - attempting to use its own air-intercept radar (as the same radar mechanics apply) - to conduct its mission.

The paradox is created because of the return radar energy from an opponent and the return radar energy from your own air-intercept radar. So either enormous power is needed to overcome one's own stealth - or – the nose of the all aspect fighter using only radar to find targets - has little or no stealth whatsoever – radar signals must pass freely through the skin and nose cone - and so we’re back to detection by the opponent; F-22 will likely try to engineer around this paradox with a DRFM/signal cancellation scheme. However, it remains an open question for an aircraft claiming to "dominate" global airspace for the next 30 years – and at ~ $350 million per copy. What is more likely is the nose of the F-22A has little to no stealth. Best to imagine the F-22A flying around without a nose random - when imagining its stealth.
In general, it is our view that highly stealthy aircraft built-in numbers - are by definition - offensive (not defensive) in nature.

I would invite nations that field these systems - to stop and ponder recent history, power, and the perceptions of power.

What should be said about the resulting toll of Iraqi civilians starting in 2003 from Shock and Awe?

Who decides to wield that power? Have our institutions been effective in controlling the use of power?

#stealth

- All media found here is for scholarship and research purposes and protected under U.S. Internet ‘Fair Use’ Law -

Comments

  1. Umm, its much bigger than the F-35. And if you see the Russian news video they are touting it as a competitor to the Raptor. It might have less stealth characterstic than both the 35 and the 22. But, they are building it as something that could be produced in large numbers and is much more affordable than the 22. I read somewhere that for the F-117 1 hour of flight requried 24 hour of maintenance on the stealth paint that it had and the numbers were similar to the 22. This prototype was without a RAM paint job. And the rivets were all visible when the pilot was climbing down. The 22 has a special film covering that covers its rivets.

    So far, Russia and India are supposed to buy 250 each of these. It has a much bigger weapons bay than both the F-35 and the F-22. The IRST, is not very stealthy, is it? lol But, I think its still a long way away from being inducted into the Russian Air force and the IAF as the FGFA.

    Also, I wouldn't read much into the Mandarin translation part. I don't think they are selling it to China. Unless, they want it to be copied into some cheaper version and then compete with that product for the world market. Besides, Russia is mindful of the China's stealth aircraft projects and they certainly wont want to contribute to that.

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  2. As per pictures that I have seen The rivets on the 50 were fewer in number and possibly smaller in size than the 35.

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  3. Yes, we'd linked to this article from ‘RIA Novosti‘:

    http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20100129/157716197.html

    with its healthy jab at the Chinese referencing their gross intellectual-property/agreement violations of Su-27 by Beijing’s J-11b program. Indeed Russian authorities are reportedly - furious with the PRC. RIA Novosti publishes in two types of Mandarin

    - The Boresight

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  4. boresight, can you please circle the 'louver system' and the 2nd smaller sphere behind the cockpit, because it is not immediately visible.

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  5. Boresight, "Two types of mandarin"?

    Or, did you mean, mandarin and cantonese?

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  6. Hi Vijay,

    Chinese simplified / Chinese traditional.

    Please review video when prototype is recovered/wheel chocked. Second sphere is on spine behind the canopy.

    See our article for pictures/explanation of Flanker 'louver system'
    http://theboresight.blogspot.com/2009/07/painful-road-for-sukhoi-su-27-27-series.html

    - The Boresight

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  7. It is war that takes a toll on the civilian population not stealthy weapons.

    Stealthy weapons actually reduce collateral damage, through the use of precision.

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  8. Hi Vijay,

    Civilian leaders start wars, not the military. Stealthy weapons can give political leaders the illusion of “sanitary war” Highly stealthy aircraft can give a false notion of capability (or "dominance") and increase the likelihood that political leaders choose a military option – which can be a false choice. The United States killed thousands of noncombatants the 2003 Iraqi invasion which included F-117 sorties during "Shock and Awe." Then Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld directed that civilian casualties not be tabulated – why?

    - The Boresight

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  9. I didn't like the reasons for the 2nd Iraq war, their original WMD reason and their latter 'oh so what, we just removed a tyrant! Thats good enough!'.

    But at the end of the day US is not the only country waging wars in the world. Its a superpower and as all past superpowers have, it did what it chose to do without giving it much thought. Also, in some cases in the world the military is the govt. US is not the only country raging wars in the this world and wont be the last.

    Stealthy weapons are not doing anything that any previous advancement in weapons technology didn't. If a country/military/person/group gets an idea of making a newer, better weapons ofcourse they would. Thats the nature of the world. Why single out stealthy weapons to hand out the lashing? Why not nuclear weapons? Or, the fire bombing of so many Japanese cities before 2 were finally nukes?

    Once again, my point is just this, that Stealth tech. Any amount of appealing to the morals of the countries to stop doing it will not result in anything of any importance.

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  10. Hi Vijay,

    Immense cost and dubious capability of Stealth against a peer (or near-peer) advisory does not warrant the expense; while at the same time allowing politicians to believe they have expanded capability (“Stealth”) when in fact – they do not. One F22 costs ~$330 million, two F22s ~$660 million. Advanced Flanker series cost roughly $30-$40-$70 million a copy. One can buy nine (9) Flankers at $70 million each and sixteen (16) if they’re $40 million each - for the same price of a couple of F22s. With all Flankers over friendly Flanker airspace, who’s going to prevail? Not the Raptor(s).

    - Boresight

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  11. A review of the rest of the articles and augments found here, whether it be phased array radars or thermal issues for afterburning (reheat) high-speed airfoils, one can’t come to the conclusion that American stealth as a huge “advance” any longer, but rather an incremental capability at a huge $$ expense. Keep in mind that even Lockheed designer Kelly Johnson simply believed Stealth would (at the end of the day) never work. These realities appear to be echoed in T-50 where absolute all-aspect-stealth is an effort in diminishing returns and too many compromises.

    - The Boresight

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  12. Your analysis is a very sober look at the whole business of 5th generation stealth fighters.

    I have always been deeply skeptical of "stealth" technology and the USA's penchant on being over reliant on it.

    Looking at the what the Russians are doing it seems to me that they are not concerned with having a "full spectrum" stealth fighter, which makes sense particularly in a defensive engagement (i.e over friendly territory).

    I wonder if you are familiar with Dr. Carlo Kopp - of Australian Air power. He says much the same thing, but is more Pro-F-22 then most others.

    http://www.ausairpower.net/

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  13. Hi Anonymous,

    Yes the http://www.ausairpower.net/ is fascinating and we both come to the same conclusions – particularly on the Flanker. However we digress with Airpower Australia on the effectiveness of F22. The B2 might be able to “hide” more effectively (fly at lower altitudes the mask her thermal signature) than the F22? The B2/F22 aircraft conduct their missions differently – and this translates into “element(s)of surprise.”

    Please see our “"Supersonic Radio-Spectrum Airfoils" article:

    http://theboresight.blogspot.com/2009/06/supersonic-radio-spectrum-airfoils.html

    And our “Phased Array Radar and Flying Insects?”

    http://theboresight.blogspot.com/2009/07/phased-array-radar-and-flying-insects.html

    - The Boresight

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  14. Thanks for your response.

    I was wondering what you think about China's Fighter projects - the Chengdu J-10 and the JF-17 Thunder, and more to the point, what do you think of China's asymmetric warfare doctrine?

    I speak specifically of China's use of stand-off weapons and platforms that would keep U.S carriers and ships at bay through such systems as the Dong Feng 21d and the new Houbie class Stealth missile boats, designed to be cheap and effective countermeasures to American air and sea power.

    Also maybe you are aware of the Millennium Challenge 2002 games and the vulnerability of carrier groups to swarm attacks. An interesting article on the whole matter can be found here:

    http://exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=6779&IBLOCK_ID=35&PAGE=1

    and a followup:

    http://exiledonline.com/the-war-nerd-this-is-how-the-carriers-will-die/

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  15. Hi Anonymous,

    Though one should never underestimate, we are as of yet - not impressed with the Chinese (PRC) Air Force as some other Western sources. Chinese historical air-combat proficiency from Korea onward – would be best described as – appalling.

    JF-17 was designed with Pakistani assistance. Please see our J-10 post:

    http://theboresight.blogspot.com/2010/08/chinas-j10-fighter-up-close.html

    If you have the time please see our main-root-page called “Some Thoughts and Discussion” here:

    http://theboresight.blogspot.com/2009/09/some-thoughts-and-discussion.html

    It has links and background analysis that should answer your specific questions. We haven’t done any research and so can make no assessment(s) of other Chinese “capabilities.”

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  16. This is what we can say.

    Remember during the Korean War that we know USAF F-86 had a large (perhaps 10:1) kill ratio over the MiG-15. We also (now) know that Russian flown MiG-15s in Korea had a better than 1:1 kill ratio over the USAF F-86s. This removes from the equation that the MiG-15 airplane was inferior to the F-86.

    So what is left to account for an appalling 10:1 kill ratio?

    Chinese/North Korean air combat proficiency.

    New advanced combat aircraft for China will not demonstrably change this situation - even today.

    - The Borsight

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  17. Looking at the MAKS 2011 showing of the PAK-FA I was struck by the Su-30 like maneuverability of the the aircraft.

    Also, is it just me or have they already made modifications to the aircraft as compared to the original prototype?

    And what about the internal weapons bay? It cant be that large given current form factor, even if it is a stealth aircraft.

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  18. The internal centerline weapons bays are very large (long). However, the Russians are going to need to resolve the issues described here: http://theboresight.blogspot.com/2009/06/supersonic-radio-spectrum-airfoils.html

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  19. Hello Boresight,

    I am inclined to agree that the PAK-FA is a counter-stealth machine with a maneuverability that is much to be desired even on its own. Does it seem likely that the Russians intend to replace the Flanker and Fulcrum families of fighters or just the Su-27 and MiG 29/35? While it is true that the PAK-FA also has a comparable weapons to a Flanker and is designed with supercruise, has the PAK-FA all but rendered the Flanker obosolete? With the F-22 suffering from degraded radar performance wouldn't the PAK-FA also suffer along with the F-35?

    Lastly, there is the F-15SE which hasn't been considered at all by this blog. I acknowledge that it a consolation for not having the F-22 available and for not being able to purchase the F-35, shouldn't its stealth pose enough of a problem to make it past the BVR shootout?

    Its a lot of questions but, those are some of the burning ones.

    -Cameron

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  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  21. Hello Cameron,


    Sorry a bit tired tonight – here is what I meant to post regarding your questions.

    As the software of the T-50 flight control system evolves - maneuverability should increase substantially. Yes, we all know Saab Draken (and F-14) did the Cobra maneuver years before Flanker - but they were risky maneuvers and on F-14 the engines had to be managed very (very) carefully. Flanker has no such engine/inlet gas flow problems during high alpha. So its much better.

    Possibly eventually - but not anytime soon. Russia just bought the Su-35S and perhaps a very few MiG-35s. The Russian Federation still has the second largest air force in the world - so PAK-FA would likely just supplement parts of the Russian fighter fleet – not replace. Too costly. Not needed.

    We think the world will find that 4th gen aircraft will enjoy advantages that 5th gen (stealth-fighters) will never see – namely unobstructed field of view for missile seaker heads and little to no weapon carriage restrictions among others.

    It is unknown what type of radar absorbing coatings the T-50 might employ. Probably not much. Some have suggested that stealth-fighter coatings are now little more than Rhino Liner (truck bed coating) because it has to be tough enough to stand up to repeated incursions into the Mach – something B-2 and F-117 do not.

    The new Su-35S engines can reportedly supercruise a clean Flanker without weapons (what the fuel fraction is of these engines is unknown). The T-50 still has an IRST sensor (the radar can be slaved to the IRST) and L-band wing radars so at high altitude should be able to see (and target) a high flying/ fast moving F-22 at great distance. Su-35S should be able to do the same.

    We haven’t talked about the Silent Eagle because it internal fuel load has been compromised in exchange for internal weapons space. The F-15SE would likely have even less range than an F-15C. Just after the F-15A was developed in the early 1970s – its fuel consumption was so high (when in afterburner) that that additional conformal fuel tanks (FAST packs) were developed almost immediately. These tanks are permanent addition on the F-15E Strike Eagle. So we do not think the F-15SE is under any serious consideration by the USAF. Silent Eagle will need to operate without under wing stores (that means no tanks – so extra no fuel) for its RSC to have any hope of being much lower than a regular Eagle. We have no idea the F-15SE RCS might be. Perhaps close to a totally clean Strike Eagle (F-15E w/out weapons/pods/drop tanks).

    The only way to mitigate reduced internal fuel capacity being displaced by the room needed for internal weapons bays – is to increase the size of the aircraft. A big fighter is not desirable because it works against what you’re trying to achieve with a fighter in the first place.

    Too much technology (too many bells-whistles) begins to work against you. You begin to introduce aircraft requirements that produce an uneven design with too many compromises.

    Flanker has effectively broken the mold on size vs maneuvering better than anything we’re ever seen...built (and fielded) by anyone...ever.

    Bottom line is with pilots of equal skill – the advanced Flanker rules the roost. Its uncomfortable for many (myself included)...I know.

    - Boresight

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