You may recall that when the PAK-FA first took flight earlier this year a quick analysis was run on these pages and those over at my home page with a note that more granular analyses would surely be forthcoming. One of the first out of the box was over at the Air Power Australia site, and was pretty eyebrow raising in it’s own right. This past week Byron passed along an even more detailed analysis, all from open source material, that had come his way:

De-constructing the Sukhoi PAK-FA (Su-50)

(Stephen Trimble over at The DEW Line notes that Markov and Hull have done work for Institute for Defense Analyses in the past, but this brief may be an independent effort).

In addition to the usual host of subjects – comparison with the only other 5th gen fighter currently flying, the F-22, for one; there are some interesting and perplexing elements to the design. For starters there is the matter of the split canopy (slide 33) with a structural member down the center of the canopy. The embedded radar antennas in the cheeks and wing leading edges are notable, but not novel as it is alleged the F-22 has embedded sensors around the aircraft. However, a multi-band capability (X-band AESA in the nose and fixed L-band in the cheeks and wings) offers greater operational flexibility and complicates counter-measures planning.

As pointed out earlier, the engines appear to lag the rest of the airframe, but even at that, with German technical assistance (see slide 40) presumably for improvements in the R&D side of the house with targets of efficiency and service life of the engine, the engines should prove sufficient from a performance, if not stealth (see slide 65). Closer to the F-35 in that regard than the F-22.

The fact that of the run of 500, 250 are Russian and the other 250 are to be a two-seat variant for India is worth noting from a resources standpoint (e.g., FMS to India is required to bring the project to fruition, just like the F-35 requires it’s share of international sales), though one wonders how much technological access the Indians will be given. This is not a small consideration as technology sharing is a bone of contention between the US and it’s F-35 partners, especially where software for the weapons system is concerned. Makes one wonder if a partnership had been entered with Japan and/or Australia what the production cost offsets might have been as well as potential for moving on to a 2nd and 3rd generation F-22.

That technology can range from the exotic, like a potential plasma energy capability which would allegedly function to break the lock of hostile AAM’s (see slides 18 & 67) to what looks to be a breakthrough in stealth coatings. The latter, if true, is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the aircraft because of the implications it carries, not just for the PAK-FA, but generation 4.5 fighters like the Su-35. Stealth coatings have been a major time and materials cost factor for operational aircraft. The B-2 required special climate control hangers for maintenance on its coatings and one of the charges against the still-born A-12 was the beating its coatings would take in the at sea environment on a carrier. If the Russians have indeed turned the corner on a material that provides a 10x reduction in RCS, is substantially thinner (and thereby, lighter), durable in the field and can be applied to generation 4.5 aircraft, that raises the stakes considerably for Western air forces confronting opponents operating aircraft like the Su-35 updated with this material. One needn’t look too far to find a near-peer competitor that would have significant interest in applying this to their own fleet of indigenously produced gen 4/4.5 fighters and what that in turn would allow them to put into place from an operational standpoint.

Still, there are only a handful of prototypes and full flight testing is supposed to begin later this month. It is a long road from the CAD/CAM boards to the flight line and as we have found out time and again with the F-117, B-2, F-22 and now with the F-35 that unforeseen issues arise during testing (like avionics cooling – a real bedevilment for stealth aircraft) that force design changes and production delays. One also wonders given the current state of industry in Russia if they will be capable of producing the numbers indicated and within the time-frames evidently agreed to.

Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation
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  • Is your link broken or did you mean to direct us to the Air Power Australia website?

  • @Solomon: look at the link underneath the second image.

  • I was referring to this…

    “Air Combat site”

    It led directly to the Air Power Australia website and not to Air Combat. That’s why I asked if the link was broken.

  • Link fixed — thanks for the heads-up.
    w/r, SJS

  • Steve

    Slide 57 says an RCS of 0.5 square meters? That is barely Low Obervable? I have seen F-22 quoted at -30dB sq meter and F-35 at -20dB sq meter.

  • B.Smitty

    Doesn’t this make anyone want to reconsider the F-22 cancellation?

  • Byron

    I never “re-considered” it; I always thought it was dumber than dirt. Counting on the F-35 is like going all in and drawing to inside straight flush.

  • On what are you basing that opinion. And might I add…we’ve seen this all before.

    Mig 1.44

    All those were suppose to be latest and greatest F-35 killer. Two never made it to service. One is in parallel development with the SU-50—AND—the SU-50 (like the author pointed out) is dependent on India for funding.

    If caution can credibly be advised when it comes to China and its ASBM then certainly a jaundiced eye is required when examining this airplane.

    Additionally I find it amazing that so much information is being gleaned from so few flight tests! If our intelligence is this good then we have no worries about any threat.

  • Byron

    @Solomon: Your point?

  • I thought that I was clear. On what point is there confusion?

  • claudio

    Speaking to the info presented, lots of good stuff to keep an eye on.

    Still in development, so plenty of time to change things.

    Seems built to be able to merge with F-22. Why the limited rear vis for the pilot? They’ll get rid of the split canopy before production.
    IRSTS. good idea from their perspective. Passive
    Help from europeans seems evident in some areas, HUD/engines. Assuming their HMS not as advanced since they’re going to a larger HUD.
    Like the L band radar and multiple locations. Good coverage.

    costs will go up. 100mil per unit will surely go up. affordability may be an issue, dependent on oil prices. But not replacing one for one. Indians will come through again. See Gorshkov.
    internal loadout seems impressive if they can support whats advertised
    Most disconcerting would have to be the new RAM developed.
    Would love to see all aspect data from Stick testing (or hanged testing).

  • As to the Indians not getting the full-model, that was always the case with Soviet/Russian exports. their own folks got the full-kitted units, the export items were referred to as “monkey models”. Good idea in that it made the export less effective than the home team’s forces, in case they decided to turn on the leaders. It also meant that the monkey-models were more likely to be captured than the “good” ones, and thus keep up the false info stream regarding capabilities.

  • Paul

    I’m curious to the source of all of this information. I tried to access the endnotes but got a “404 not found” message.

  • Byron

    If we told you, we’d have to kill you… 🙂

  • Paul


    The line starts around the corner, next to the dollar store…

    Will Russia sell this baby to China, assuming it reaches production? Assuming it does what this article says it does?

  • Byron

    Russia will sell it to anyone with the cash. Period. Dot.

  • Perhaps not. Moscow stopped the Su-33 sale to China after they concluded that Beijing was copying their Su-27 (F-11) without license.