So, Friday, the good folks at Sukhoi gave the first public test flight of the PAK-FA, which is an acronym meaning roughly “Advanced Aircraft System: Frontline Aviation.” The Sukhoi plane is officially called the T-50, so we’ll go with that name. Here’s the video they helpfully posted on YouTube.
Neat, right? Sort of an F-22 with a MiG-29 vibe. So, what’s the deal? Well, as our Mid-South operative “Dr. J” (he was awesome one-on-one against Larry Bird in that video game) writes in thusly:
I know I should spend less time paying attention to what’s going on in the world, but when I go to the FoxNews website, instead of going to Alessandra’s Bikini Shoot [at right, more modestly], my eyes shoot leftward, then downward and I see the consequences of bad policy move after bad policy move. And next to those ‘below the fold stories’ Alessandra just doesn’t win the mouse click faceoff.
After decades of enjoying overwhelming air superiority, the congress’s timely decision to kill the F-22 program, due to ‘high cost’, ‘lack of a clear air to air mission due to delays in the Russian and Chinese 5th generation fighter programs’, the Russians announce the S-50, probably ready for action in 5 years.
The days of Maverick flipping a bird at a MiG while Inverted are over.
(Quotes are from the ever reliable wikipedia and the source being “Gates Announces Major Pentagon Priority Shifts.” CNN, 9 April 2009. Retrieved: 14 April 2009.)
The good doctor obviously remembers the full-blown freakout Confucius* threw about the Obama Administration’s closing the F-22 program (click the F-22 tag below).
So, is Confucius feeling vindicated and prophetic? Well, no. The PAK-FA competition has been going on for years. None of this is a surprise. And although Sukhoi and the Russians call the T-50 a fifth-generation plane, it’s not really clear how competitive the stealth, sensor integration, and other spooky stuff is with the Raptor’s. They’ve publicly said that they’re choosing performance over stealth (which could well be making a virtue of necessity), so that’s one factor. The other is that there exist real and lasting questions about whether the Russians can or will actually produce the T-50 any time soon, as that linked article from Reuben Johnson last year around this time describes.
Still, this is exactly the type of thing that you try and keep ahead of. We are, but for how long? Even if the T-50 proves to be inferior to our F-22s, how many can Russia—or especially China—field? The less high-tech they are, of course, the cheaper. So in some way it comes down to what the Russian government and their customers like India (and say Brazil, if they can sweet-talk them back into the game) are will to subsidize in development. If they want a Raptor-like plane, we’ll see a lot fewer. But if they decide that fourth-and-a-third- or fourth-and-a-half-generation is good enough, then maybe they can start cranking them out. They won’t build fifteen hundred, like the MiG-29, but the last I heard the requirement was something like 300. That’s probably doable, unless the industry can’t pull itself out of its decline. We’re probably fine, but we won’t know we’re not until—one day all of a sudden—boom, their missiles start knocking our guys down at a bad moment because some genius physicist (and the Russians are hip-deep in genius physicists) figures out a way to use low-frequency radar or something new altogether to defeat our bajillion-dollar stealth systems. Or maybe they figure out a clever tactic for hunting planes they can’t see. Who knows? Nobody. That’s why you try and keep the gap as wide as possible (incidentally demoralizing them from trying to catch up).
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.