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was clear that the
PAK FA (Perspektivnyi
Aviatsionnyi Kompleks
Frontovoy Aviatsii,
Future Air Complex
of Tactical Aviation) fifth-generation
fighter program enjoyed the full support
of the Russian military, funding from
the Russian government and a first
major foreign customer in the shape of
India. Now clouds are gathering over
the project.
While funding for the PAK FA will
certainly remain a priority for the Russian
Ministry of Defense, cuts are inevitable in
the face of Moscows mounting economic

difficulties. Increasing delays in the

production of successive Sukhoi T-50
prototypes and technical problems during
trials have conspired to create a new
situation: in Russian Air Force plans, an
operational PAK FA is shifting to the more
distant future, after 2020, giving way to
the Su-30SM and Su-35S in the interim.

MAKS 2015
The PAK FA, which was the star of two
previous MAKS Aviation and Space
Salons at Zhukovsky, near Moscow,
receded into the background this year.
One aircraft, T-50-4, took part in the air
display at MAKS 2015 in August, whereas
two years ago the shows highlight was a

flyby of three aircraft. This year the T-50-4

provided a very good flying display,
but it was not as dynamic as the Su-35S
performing before it; limitations to the
permissible g-load are evident. As at
previous shows there was no access to
the aircraft, and it was only seen during
its five-minute aerial demonstration.
The sensor suite developed for the
PAK FA was displayed in the exhibition
halls at MAKS 2015. However, the only
new element was the small imaging
infra-red sensor, named 101KS-P P
for Posadka, landing that assists in
low-altitude flying and landing. Judging
by a part of the sensors fairing, with
which the 101KS-P was presented, it

T-50-4 flies
during MAKS
2015 in August
complete with
RVV-AE (R-77)
air-to-air guided
missile dummy
Piotr Butowski

January 2016


Once billed as Russias

rival to the F-22 Raptor,
the Sukhoi T-50 has
run into trouble of late,
amid rumors of serious
technical deficiencies
and indications that
the initial buy is to be
dramatically scaled
back. Meanwhile, two
advanced Flanker
variants are entering
service as stopgap
fighters for the Russian
Air Force.
report: Piotr Butowski


Nominal take-off
Maximum take-off
Maximum speed
Supersonic cruising speed
Maximum supersonic range
Maximum range

January 2016

14.1m (46ft 3in)

(First prototypes: 14.0m or 45ft 11in)
20.1m (66ft)
(First prototypes: 19.7m or 64ft 7in)
4.6m (15ft 1in)
18,000kg (39,683lb)
25,000kg (55,116lb)
35,000kg (77,162lb)
Mach 2.0
Mach 1.3
over 1,500km (932 miles)
3,500km (2,175 miles)

will be built into the forward section of

the canoe-shaped cover of the T-50s
underwing weapons bay. The 101KS-P
is part of the UOMZ/Yekaterinburg
101KS Atoll electro-optical suite that also
includes the forward 101KS-V (Vozdukh,
air) infra-red search and track sensor,
101KS-O (Oborona, defense) electrooptical locators, and 101KS-U ultra-violet
missile-approach warning sensors.
In addition, the 101KS-N (Nazemnyi,
ground) navigation/targeting pod is
under development for the PAK FA. The
selection and location of the various
101KS sensors varies among the T-50
prototypes, and it remains unclear which
option is the definitive one.




The Tikhomirov NIIP company displayed

a set of antennas for the N036 Byelka
(squirrel) radar for the PAK FA and a
presentation confirmed their location on
the airframe. Here, analysts assumptions
were proven correct. The radar has five
active electronically-scanned arrays
(AESA). The N036-01-1 forward-looking
X-band (3cm wavelength) antenna is
tilted upward by about 15 degrees. Two
smaller N036B-1-01 side-looking X-band
arrays are mounted under the forward
section of the cockpit, on the lower
fuselage sides, angled downward about
15 degrees. The lateral arrays are used
for widening the angle of search and
tracking of aerial targets in azimuth up to
+/-135 from the aircrafts axis, as well as
for ground targets. Two other N036L-1-01
L-band (decameter wavelength) arrays
mounted in the wing leading edges are
used for friend or foe identification as
well as detection of aerial targets. Use of
the L-band radar in air-to-air mode is the
T-50s main way of dealing with stealth
targets that may be detected (but not
targeted) by radio waves longer than the
X-band, for which reduction of the radar
cross-section is optimized.
From the types maiden flight on
January 29, 2010, until fall 2015, the PAK
FA prototypes have completed slightly
more than 700 flights. This is not a
considerable number for such a large and
important program. In this time, five flying

prototypes of the fighter have been built,

but they have spent much of their time
in overhauls and undergoing upgrades.
For instance, the first prototype T-50-1
was in overhaul for over a year, between
August 2011 and September 2012, after
sustaining structural damage. Various
strengthening overlays subsequently
appeared on the airframes. Recently the
same T-50-1 has been modified again: in
August 2015 it was photographed with
changes to the upper fuselage skin. The
fifth aircraft, T-50-5, caught fire on the
runway after landing on June 10, 2014. The
overhaul at Komsomolsk-on-Amur lasted
16 months; the aircraft, now designated
T-50-5R, resumed flight tests after repair
on October 16, 2015. Work on the sixth
example (and the last of the first batch of

test aircraft), T-50-6, was stopped, and its

parts were used to repair the T-50-5.
Since 2014 the T-50-2, -3, and -4
prototypes have spent most of their
time with the 929th Chkalov State Flight
Test Center at Akhtubinsk in the Volga
estuary, 130km (81 miles) from Volgograd,
where they are undergoing evaluation
conducted by military pilots. First to
arrive was T-50-2, which touched down
on February 21, 2014. As far as is known
there have been no genuine weapon
launches from the PAK FA however, the
underwing carriage of dummy missiles
has been noted for some time.

The second stage

In February 2015, the United Aircraft
Corporation announced in a press release

Top: From the

types maiden
flight on
January 29,
2010, the PAK
FA prototypes
have completed
slightly more
than 700 flights.
Above: The
T-501 first
has appeared
with structural
retrofits, while
T-50-5 caught
fire in June 2014,
and parts from
the forthcoming
T-50-6 were used
to repair T-50-5.
Piotr Butowski

January 2016


Below: Since
2014 the
T-50-2, -3, and
-4 have spent
most of their
time at the
929th Chkalov
State Flight
Test Center at
Piotr Butowski
Right: The N036
Byelka (squirrel)
radar includes a
X-band antenna
tilted upward
by about 15
degrees and two
smaller sidelooking X-band
arrays under the
forward section
of the cockpit.
via Piotr Butowski

January 2016

that in 2015, three more flying prototypes

should join the test program. As of now,
none of these have flown, however, and
leaked reports claimed that at best one
would fly in December. According to
current plans, eight pre-series aircraft
designated T-50S are to be completed
between 2016 and 2018. However, this
timescale will likely be subject to yet
further delay. Full series production is
intended to start in 2019.
The increasing delays to the PAK FA
program suggest that rumors concerning
the aircrafts technical problems may be
true, although, apart from the admission
of the fire suffered by T-50-5 in June 2014,
there has been no official confirmation
of them. Speculation suggests that the
main design problem is the insufficient
strength of the load-bearing structure.
Efforts made thus far to reinforce it
have increased the aircrafts weight
unacceptably. New materials, which
would provide the necessary strength
at lighter weight, are scarce in Russia,
and even if this were not the case the
Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant cannot
employ them on an industrial scale.
Considerable investment in the factorys
tooling and personnel training is



Non-flying Kompleksnyi Naturnyi Stend (integrated testbed) with engines,

flight controls, electric and fuel systems.


Static test airframe completed in October 2009.


051. First flying prototype, made its maiden flight on January 29, 2010. Overhauled
between August 2011 and September 2012, after sustaining structural damage.


052. Second flying prototype made its first flight on March 3, 2011. Moved to
Akhtubinsk February 21, 2014.


053. Third flying prototype and first with mission systems including radar. First flight
November 22, 2011.


054 is the fourth flying prototype and made its first flight on December 12, 2012.


055 is the fifth flying prototype and made its first flight on October 27, 2013. Seriously
damaged on June 10, 2014, as consequence of starboard engine fire. Overhauled at
Komsomolsk-on-Amur and now designated T-50-5R, resumed flight tests after repair on
October 16, 2015.


Work on the sixth aircraft (and last of the first batch of test aircraft), T-50-6, was stopped,
and its parts used to repair the T-50-5.




In October 2012 a decision was made to

construct a further six evaluation aircraft
according to a revised design, known as
the second stage. The airframe
construction jigs for these aircraft are
modified, which may indicate that they
are significantly different from the
previous examples. It should be noted
that the term second stage, used to
describe aircraft with reinforced
airframes, appeared only recently.
Previously, it identified those T-50s with
the new izdeliye 30 engines, planned for
the more distant future. The izdeliye 30 is
a clean-sheet design, which is expected
to have higher thrust, lighter weight, a
reduced number of elements and lower
operating costs. Full-scale development
of izdeliye 30 began in 2011. It is claimed
that a first test engine will be completed
in 2016 and will begin trials on an Il-76LL
testbed aircraft in 2017. Currently, T-50s
are powered by two Saturn AL-41F1

(izdeliye 117) thrust-vectoring turbofan

engines, these representing a thorough
upgrade of the AL-31F as used in the
Su-27/Su-30. Each engine is rated at
approximately 14.5 tonnes of thrust with
afterburner and 9 tonnes of dry thrust.

Acquisition plans
In the Schedule of activity of Russias
Ministry of Defense for 2013-2020, which
remains valid, the PAK FAs initial
operational capability is specified for
December 31, 2016. The Russian National
Armament Program originally stipulated
the purchase of 60 PAK FAs by 2020, but
this is now unrealistic. In March 2015,
during his visit to the Komsomolsk-onAmur factory, the Russian Deputy
Minister of Defense Yuri Borisov said that
fewer T-50s (reportedly 12) might be
purchased by 2020, in favor of lower-cost
Su-30SM and Su-35 fighters. Last August
the commander-in-chief of the Russian

Air and Space Force (created in August

2015 by merging the Air Force with the
Air and Space Defense Troops), Col Gen
Viktor Bondarev, previously the C-in-C of
the Air Force, shifted responsibility to
industry. According to Bondarev, the
service would buy all the T-50s that
industry is able to manufacture. If they
make four we will take four, if they
make 10 we will take 10. Nevertheless,
production of the PAK FA by 2020 will be
rather limited.
In January 2003 Russia and India signed
a letter of intent, followed in October
2007 by an inter-governmental
agreement, concerning common
development of the Prospective
Multi-role Fighter (PMF), on the basis of
the T-50. These were followed in
December 2010 by a contract for the
preliminary design of the PMF, which
received the codename Type 79L.
Signature of a major contract for the next

Plans for the

purchase of 60
PAK FA fighters
by 2020 now
appear to be
unrealistic due
to delays and
changes in
Piotr Butowski

January 2016


stage of work (technical design) was

expected in 2013, but is still under
negotiation. The Indian Chief of Air Staff,
Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, said in
February 2015 that the final quantity of
fighters to be acquired by India has still
not been determined and will depend on
financial factors. Recent Indian media
reports have stated that no more than
around 65 aircraft will be purchased. Soon
after, Russias UAC published a counterarticle in its corporate magazine, in which
news of the reduction in the Indian order
was indirectly attributed to disinformation
spread by competitors. India is certainly
very interested in participating in a
fifth-generation fighter program,
especially in the face of progress with the
Chinese J-20. It was expected that a
contract covering the technical design
and prototypes of the PMF would be
inked during a visit to Moscow by an
Indian delegation in November 2015.

January 2016

Right top to
bottom: Plans
called for eight
pre-series T-50S
variants to be
between 2016
and 2018;
however, this
timescale will
likely be subject
to yet further
Piotr Butowski

prototypes have
completed slightly
more than 700 flights,
not a considerable
number for such an
important program


T-50-2 is put
through its
paces during a
display routine.
New engines
are expected
to dramatically
the types
Piotr Butowski
No genuine
launches are
thought to have
been made by
the PAK FA test
fleet, although
dummy rounds
are carried
Piotr Butowski