Friday, June 18, 2010

Russian sales pitch for new fighter

June 18, 2010

In this Reuters article, Russian President Prime Minister Vladimir Putin boasts that their new fifth-generation fighter will be superior to the American F-22 Raptor.

It is easy to shrug off the hype that the Sukhoi T-50 tops the F-22. On a plane-for-plane basis the Lockheed-built F-22 will almost certainly still be the best. But the Russian boasts do make several important points.

1) It may not be a plane-for-plane basis at all. The U.S. capped the F-22 at 186 total aircraft. The Russians are just moving theirs into production. We don't know how many they will build, but in addition to their own inventory, as long as there are buyers, they will build them.

2) American pilots will eventually face this Russian-made aircraft. This was a Russian sales pitch, and this airplane will be marketed far and wide to every country that can buy a few jets or a few squadrons. Russia has a long track record of selling military technology.

3) It doesn't have to be better than the F-22 to still be a capable, dangerous aircraft to engage. We know it has low-observable traits (stealth) and we know it is twin engine.

4) American and allied pilots that eventually encounter these fifth-generation rivals will most likely not have the advantage of flying the F-22. The vast majority of our airpower inventory is made up of fourth-generation (or fourth-plus with updated avionics) aircraft: the F-15, the F-16 -- many of them nearing 25 years old. These aircraft do not have the advantage of being low observable.

All of this is why building enough F-35s (the only U.S. fifth generation fighter in the works) takes on such importance in the years ahead.

(Air Force photo/by Angel DelCueto) One of two F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighters flying nonstop to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., departed its final-assembly site in Fort Worth, Texas, May 17, 2010, as part of flight test operations.

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