Streetwise Professor

February 2, 2010

Fifth Generation Potemkin Fighter?

Filed under: Military — The Professor @ 11:22 pm

Russia announced with great fanfare the maiden flight of its 5th generation aircraft, the T-50.  This is allegedly Russia’s answer to the F-22 Raptor.  But as Alexander Golts writes, one can never be too sure:

On Friday, we were told that the state-run Sukhoi aircraft manufacturer successfully ran a test flight of a fifth-generation fighter jet in the far eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur. The fighter jet did, in fact, make it up into the air, but it flew in such a dense cloud of lies that nobody can be sure exactly what they saw.

Does the T-50 PAK FA fighter— which journalists have incorrectly called the Russian Stealth — possess fifth-generation aircraft capabilities such as a constant flying speed of more than 2,000 kilometers per hour, a flight range of more than 5,000 kilometers, a low radar profile, radiolocation of distant enemy objects and long-range guided missiles? None of that is clear. Some sources claim that the onboard radio-detection system is still going through bench tests, and nothing whatsoever is known about its weapons systems.

Nor is there any information regarding the engine that is purported to propel the T-50 at greater speeds than its primary rival, the U.S. F-22 Raptor. Several firms engaged in backroom intrigues for years, repeatedly failing to put forward a reliable tender for the engine’s construction. In the end, NPO Saturn won the contract. And the first thing that the firm’s directors did was start telling bald-faced lies about the engine’s capabilities.

Both Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov have acknowledged that problems with the aircraft’s engine will take a long time to resolve. But on the day of the T-50’s maiden flight, the managing director of NPO Saturn’s Unified Engine-Building Corporation, Ilya Fyodorov, made a sensational announcement. He said the jet is outfitted with “the very newest engine and not an improved version of the Su-35 engine as reported by some media and several specialists. It fulfills all the requirements presented to us by the Sukhoi company.”

Strategy Page is similarly skeptical, reporting that the T-50 is merely a “pimped out” Sukhoi Su-35 or Su-37.  SP also suggests that Fyodorov is blowing smoke about the engines: “The 47 minute test flight was done without the new engines designed for the T-50. Russia has always had problems with high performance jet engines, and those woes continue.”

Like Golts says, 5th generation involves supercruise, speed, and especially stealth.  None of which can be verified from a short test flight.

A variety of factors create doubts.  As Golts writes, promising a spiffy new aircraft is a way of attracting funding.  Moreover, the repeated embarrassments over Bulava make Putin and the military desperate for a success.  And the Russian public also eats up military prowess in a way most Americans don’t (at least nowdays).

So, maybe this is the real deal, but quite possibly not.  And even if a test flight gets off the ground, and the aircraft has the advertised capabilities, it’s another thing altogether to manufacture it in numbers, especially given the decrepitude of Russia’s military-industrial base and the stringency of its budgetary situation.  This is far more likely show than go.

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  1. Ahh, the Potemkin argument. I would start worrying about American budgets and projects if I were you.

    Comment by Leos Tomicek — February 3, 2010 @ 8:05 am

  2. I would not be so skeptical, this T-50 with engine from Su-35 already passed first test with success – made it to the ground in one piece. Bulava never managed that, cursed 2nd phase!

    And Leos, what exactly should we worry about in American budget? That almost its whole Naval part goes to project of one, “partially successful” (Read as: “did-not-blow-up-in-the-submarine”) rocket like in Russia? Or about 5th generation fighter project? There are some questions about Raptor, but one typical for Russia has been already answered: When it will be capable of operational service? Year before modernization is needed?

    Comment by Deith — February 3, 2010 @ 8:31 am

  3. Like worry about the fact that most of your budget goes to the military which is engaged in two pointless conflicts and retains bases where they are not needed.

    There were successful tests of the Bulava, of course there are problems with it and they need to be resolved. The problems were acknowledged by Russian officials, so no Potemkindom here to contemplate.

    Comment by Leos Tomicek — February 3, 2010 @ 10:05 am

  4. Every time Count Potemkin is mentioned, it is always a veiled compliment. Because what is Count Potemkin famous for, besides being one of the lovers of Catherine the Great? He oversaw the development of huge newly conquered areas of Russia from scratch and turned them into its most flourishing provinces. What the foreigners enviously referred to as “Potemkin villages” were in fact real, as is well known to any serious student of history…

    So what exactly is the real meaning of the adjective “Potemkin”? It is something that is so amazing you don’t want to believe it’s true, but nevertheless it is. So what does the phrase “Potemkin fighter” really tell us? It tells us that SWP stands completely in awe of the Russian military-industrial complex. Either that, or he is an utter fool who tries to use historical allusions he doesn’t understand.

    – (h/t @ Fedia)

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — February 3, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

  5. “So what does the phrase “Potemkin fighter” really tell us? It tells us that SWP stands completely in awe of the Russian military-industrial complex. Either that, or he is an utter fool who tries to use historical allusions he doesn’t understand.”

    Pure comedy gold.

    I am sure The Professor looks at the decrepitude of Russia’s military-industrial base and considers it to be so amazing that he doesn’t want to believe what he observes as being true but, nevertheless, realizes he must. I am also sure such amazement isn’t a compliment.

    Comment by Charles — February 3, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

  6. Now talking of improperly working stuff – something that is closer at hand and with certainly a far greater impact if the recall of hordes of Toyota vehicles. My question is why now? Is this a subtle ploy by Washington regulators to give a prop to the Big 3 in Detroit? Perhaps folks have realized that the best way to erode Toyota’s dominance is to question its quality which looked iron clad up until recently. Did Toyota fall behind in its annual ritual of taking care of Washington 😉

    Comment by Surya — February 4, 2010 @ 1:03 am

  7. It’s the real deal. The engines are a problem, but development Su-27s also flew with older engines in the beginning. Golts is no Jamestown flunky like Felgenhaur, but not an aviation expert by any means. The SP article is so full of errors, it appears to have been written by a 6th-grader. I’d wait for the report from these guys: . Bill Sweetman has a realistic appraisal: . I don’t expect service entry before 2018.

    Comment by So? — February 4, 2010 @ 1:34 am

  8. More aptly put, Golts and Felgenhauer are two sides of the same coin.

    Comment by Slugger — February 4, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

  9. Correct Bill Sweetman link:

    Comment by So? — February 4, 2010 @ 10:55 pm

  10. I’d wait for the report from these guys…

    When you type “Carlo Kopp” into Google, the only suggestion Google Suggest comes up with is “idiot”. I wonder why.

    Comment by peter — February 5, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

  11. He tells people things they don’t like to hear. And no, he’s no Russophile, by any means, neither is he an alarmist. He simply analyses defense issues based on capabilities, rather than intent, especially with regards to China.

    Comment by So? — February 5, 2010 @ 6:39 pm

  12. He tells people things they don’t like to hear.

    So do our resident clowns Averko and Sublime. Attitude is no substitute for competence.

    And no, he’s no Russophile, by any means…

    Sure. To say that every tool is a Russophile is to commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent.

    Comment by peter — February 6, 2010 @ 6:59 am

  13. Kopp operates with numbers. His defractors wave their hands.

    Comment by So? — February 6, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

  14. Yep, Kopp and Goon sure have a funny way with numbers.

    T-50 bt F-22A 5-2.

    Priceless. But nothing beats their “Grisha Medved” gig:

    Grisha make this challenge to Amerikanskis. We have ‘Russki Roulette’ fry-up and shoot-out in same mission. Even give Amerikanski first AIM-120D shot at Grisha to see if Grisha can duck missile and live. Then Grisha fire R-77M and R-74-PD at Amerikanski see if APG-79 or APG-81 can fry Adder and Archer. I think Grisha win this one – boom boom!

    Comment by peter — February 7, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

  15. So what exactly is wrong with Kopp’s analysis? Or are you just going to persist in your ad ridiculum fallacies?

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — February 10, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

  16. So what exactly is wrong with Kopp’s analysis?

    Not much. His analysis mostly falls into the “not even wrong” category.

    Comment by peter — February 11, 2010 @ 5:46 am

  17. His PAK FA analysis is out. Why don’t you read it?

    Comment by So? — February 15, 2010 @ 9:29 pm

  18. I already have.

    The engine employs a larger diameter fan, at 932 mm vs. the 905 mm fan in the earlier Al-31FP TVC engine…

    Wow, I’m mighty impressed. Of course, 937 mm would be even more spectacular, but you have to remember that the Russians follow the “philosophy of “evolutionary” design, rather than the “Big Bang” approach currently favoured in the West.”

    Comment by peter — February 16, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

  19. Snicker all you want. This is still an interim engine. The bays are oversized for the true 5th gen engine to come. BTW, initially Su-27 flew with interim engines, so did Rafale, so did EF2000.

    Comment by So? — February 17, 2010 @ 12:01 am

  20. Sorry junior, you lost me here. I have neither knowledge nor inclination to discuss fans and bays, I’m merely saying that “operating with numbers” is not the same as number-dropping.

    Comment by peter — February 17, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

  21. If numbers were the only thing you dropped here.

    Comment by So? — February 17, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

  22. Is this some teenage joke? I don’t get it.

    Comment by peter — February 17, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

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