KnAAPO starts work on fifth-gen fighter

Farnborough Air Show » 2008
July 3, 2008, 5:18 AM

Sukhoi’s Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Industrial Association (KnAAPO) has started manufacturing the first development prototypes of an advanced fifth-generation fighter. Sukhoi told AIN that it will complete an experimental aircraft in the second half of next year, after which it will start flight trials.

According to Sukhoi director general Mikhail Pogosyan, the first test aircraft is roughly 30 percent complete. “The exact manufacturing time frame normally varies from seven to ten years,” he explained. “We have done more than a third of the job and are building a development prototype, which will take us several years. We shall gradually increase the operational capabilities of the aircraft and will start production in 2015.”

By that date, the Russian industry is expected to have built and tested a new-generation engine to power the long-anticipated fifth-generation fighter. Until then, flight trials of the new jet will be conducted using the existing Saturn 117S engine already in service on the Su-35s. This turbofan is a prototype of the fifth-generation engine created by a thorough modernization of the Saturn AL-31F. It features a thrust just under 32,000 pounds, which is 4,400 pounds above that of the proposed baseline engine.

According to the Russian air force, the main contractor for the advanced new engine will be chosen by mid-2009, and other partners will be selected to contribute to the powerplant package. Currently, two groups of engine manufacturers are developing competing proposals for the new engine; one of the groups is headed by government-owned Salyut and Saturn, which has some private shareholders.

From the outset, Russia has aimed its program of building an advanced frontline aircraft system at both domestic and foreign markets. Sukhoi has declined to reveal the likely cost of the Russian fifth-generation fighter; however, sources within the group have indicated that the price will not be more than $50 million, which would make the aircraft quite competitive with the U.S. F-35.

The program has already caught India’s eye, which this year plans to sign an agreement with the Russians to launch codevelopment of another fifth-generation fighter. The fighter design would be based on work already being done by Sukhoi and would involve a leading role for India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL).

The proposed Russo-Indian fifth-generation fighter will be built using a single basic platform, but with some alterations to be made by the Indians. The prospective partners are currently engaged in setting the specifications for the new model, defining the technology and special requirements needed by the Indian air force.

Production of the Russian fifth-generation fighter is planned to start in 2015, but ahead of that, Sukhoi is busy with its new Su-35 multi-role fighter, which started flight trials in February. Later this year, two more experimental prototypes of the Su-35, built by KnAAPO, will join the flight trials.

Deliveries of Su-35s to Russian and export customers are due to start between 2010 and 2011. Russian defense export agency Rosoboronexport believes the
Su-35 will enable Sukhoi to remain competitive on the world market until the fifth-generation fighter enters service.

Both Rosoboronexport and Sukhoi plan to export the Su-35 to Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. They believe Venezuela will be the first export customer for the fighter, as it is already a customer for the Su-30MK2, and is preparing to begin negotiations for some Su-35s.

According to Pogosyan, the Su-35 is the first step toward a fifth-generation aircraft. He argued that the Su-35’s onboard computers make it possible to optimize control systems of the future fifth-generation fighter. “Though looking like the Su-27, the new Su-35 fighter features an essentially new range of capabilities,” said the Sukhoi boss. He would not reveal a price for the aircraft but insisted that it would be competitive with Western rivals.

This year, Sukhoi is set to export 40 Su-30s, including component kits for the Su-30MKIs being built under license in India.

The group expects to sell $8 billion worth of combat aircraft over the next five years. By 2010, the share of defense projects in the company’s portfolio is projected to amount to between 55 and 65 percent of the total, while the civil products will account for between 45 and 35 percent. Overall, in the next five years, Sukhoi plans to double its output, primarily through the serial production of its new Superjet 100 regional jetliner.

The company plans to increase sales of spare parts and support for “Su” aircraft sold abroad, an enterprise already worth in excess of $100 million per year. It expects to control at least 80 percent of the market for spares, with the remaining 20 percent remaining in the healthy gray market for used spares from countries that already operate Sukhois.

Over the next decade, Sukhoi will be busy with the modernization of the Russian air force’s Su-24M2, Su-25SM and Su-27SM aircraft. It also plans a large project of in-depth upgrades for the Su-34 strike aircraft and further optimization of the Su-30 family.   

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