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Russian Stealth Fighter, Made With Indian Help, Makes Maiden Flight

Russia's fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), which is a joint project with India, made its maiden flight on Friday in the country's far east, boosting hopes that the stealth fighter may be ready for induction
PTI January 29, 2010 15:24 IST

Russia's fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), which is a joint project with India, made its maiden flight on Friday in the country's far east, boosting hopes that the stealth fighter may be ready for induction in the next five years.

"Today the 5th generation fighter made its maiden flight at Komsomolsk-on-Amur. The flight lasted about 45 minutes," Sukhoi Corporation's spokesperson Olga Kayukova told state-run 'Rossiya 24' TV.  Describing the flight as a textbook, she said, "all the expectations of the scientists were met". 

With the aircraft getting airborne, Russia is the second country in the world to produce a 5th generation fighter, which is 90 per cent made up of composite fibre.

Sukhoi's KNAAPO aircraft plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur is reported to have built three prototypes of FGFA with the technical name T-50 under its PAK FA project to rival US Lockheed F-22 Raptor and its newer version F-35. 

Under an agreement signed in October 2007, India has also joined the FGFA project by taking a 50 per cent investment stake in the project. For the Indian Air Force, a lighter, two-seater version is to be developed to meet its specific requirements. 

The Russian Air Force intends to begin the induction of FGFA from 2015, India is also expected to induct at least 250 combat jets, which would be manufactured by HAL - the nodal partner of Sukhoi in the project. 

The Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has a 25 per cent share of design and development work in FGFA, with India contributing largely to composites, cockpit and avionics. The Indian systems onboard would be mission computers, navigation systems, most of the cockpit displays, the counter measure dispensing.

The Russian expertise in Titanium structures would be complimented by India's experience in composites for the new fighter.  The Indian version of the futuristic fighter will also have weapon of Indian origin including Astra, the beyond visual range missile being developed by the DRDO.

At the initial stages, 500 FGFA are to be developed with options kept open for both Russian and Indian Air Force. While the Russian military has ordered 200 single seaters and 50 twin seaters, the IAF has projected 200 twin seaters and 50 single seaters, reports PTI.

 AP adds: The  stealth jet fighter is intended to match the latest U.S. design as an important step in the country's efforts to modernize its aging Soviet-era arsenals.

 The Sukhoi T-50 prototype took to the skies for a 45-minute flight from an airfield at the company's production plant in the Far Eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur on Friday, Sukhoi spokesman Alexei Paveshchenko told The Associated Press.

Russian officials have spent two decades trying to build the so-called fifth-generation fighter and hope the T-50 can challenge the U.S. F-22 Raptor, which first flew in 1997. The Russian project has been veiled in secrecy and no pictures of it had been released before the maiden flight.

 If the prototype bearing a close resemblance to the Raptor goes into production, it will be the first major new aircraft design built in post-Soviet Russia. Officials have expressed hope that the T-50 will enter service in 2015.  A Sukhoi statement quoted test pilot Sergei Bogdan as saying the craft was "easy and comfortable to pilot."

Friday's successful test of the plane, developed in partnership with India, comes as a relief to Russian government officials. A series of failures on high-profile weapons projects has blighted Russia's attempts to modernize its rusting arsenals. But observers said it was early to celebrate.

Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst, said the T-50 is running on old engines, and the only major technological breakthrough was designing the airframe making the jet more difficult for radars to spot, in keeping with its U.S. counterpart.

The specifications and design of Russia's new fighter have been kept secret. Aviation officials have said the new craft will meet the fifth-generation requirements, including a supersonic cruising speed.

Sukhoi said the plane has advanced stealth capabilities. "This allows a significant increase in military effectiveness," the company's statement said. Advanced control systems help fly the aircraft and "allow the pilot to concentrate on tactical tasks," it added.

Russian news agencies reported the highly maneuverable plane has a 5,500-kilometer range. The Raptor has a range of about 2,960 kilometers , according to official U.S. data. AP