Russia is talking about a sixth-generation fighter jet as its Su-57 sits out the war in Ukraine


  • Russian officials have begun discussing a future sixth-generation fighter aircraft.

  • But Russia has struggled to operate its fifth-generation fighter jet, the Su-57, which has been absent from Ukraine.

  • “This is an illusion,” an expert on Russia’s defense industry told BI.

As the Russian Air Force struggles to make a difference in Ukraine, the Russian Air Force and the country’s aviation industry are discussing a next-generation fighter aircraft that will be deployed by 2050.

It is no coincidence that the discussion comes at a time when the US Air Force is hinting that it may abandon its plan a sixth-generation fighter plane, a piloted air superiority fighter that will operate with drones. But experts see the idea of ​​a next-generation Russian fighter as pure fantasy at a time when the country is struggling to operate its fifth-generation stealth fighters.

“This is an illusion,” Pavel Luzin, an expert on Russia’s defense industry, told Business Insider. “People in government may even believe it is possible, but it is not. It is absolute emptiness. Of course, the Russian design agencies imitate some research and development activities in this field and get money for this imitation, but there is nothing serious.”

Nevertheless, the topic is discussed in the Russian media, regime-controlled media that often try to stoke nationalism by boasting about the superiority of Russian weapons. “We are currently thinking about the concept of a sixth-generation aircraft, conducting search research and exchanging views with military specialists,” Evgeny Fedosov, scientific director of the State Research Institute of Aviation Systems, wrote in a column for the state news agency TASS. “Such an aircraft should appear sometime in 2050, but already now it is necessary to understand what the armed conflicts of the future will look like.”

Discussing advanced aircraft seems almost surreal for Russia, whose air force already has enough problems using current fighters in Ukraine. The Russian Air Force has played a marginal role in the war in Ukraine, despite its superior numbers and technology to the dwindling number of old Soviet-era aircraft. The Russian Air Force has relied mainly on fourth-generation aircraft such as the Su-30, Su-35 and Su-27, improved designs dating back to the 1980s. Russia’s fifth-generation fighter aircraft, the Su-57, stood out for its… absence in Ukraine. With only a dozen built, the Su-57 only recently made the news when one or two were built damaged by Ukrainian drone attacks on them airbases.

Yet Russia is one of the world’s leading aviation powers, with a vast research and manufacturing base left over from Soviet times. As America pursues – albeit tentatively – its Next Generation Air Dominance project, and China develops a future jet, it would be strange if Russia isn’t thinking about its next fighter.

Like other countries, Russia must grapple with fundamental design questions. Does it make sense to build a manned fighter, with all the size, complexity and survivability that requires a human in the cockpit? Or opt for an AI-controlled aircraft, or perhaps a team in which a manned jet aircraft works with drones? What kind of stealth features will it have, and will it be armed with traditional guns and missiles, or laser weapons?

In November 2023, a senior Russian aviation official said no decision had been made on whether a sixth-generation fighter would be manned or unmanned. “Two years ago, a roundtable conference was organized in the army on the issue of creating sixth-generation aviation complexes,” Sergei Korotkov, a top designer at the state-owned United Aircraft Corporation, told TASS. “Both the military and the institutions involved in aircraft manufacturing were invited to the round table; specialists from the Moscow Institute and the United Aircraft Corporation were present. As a result, we basically disagreed.”

Korotkov seemed confident that a next-generation jet would operate as a team with drones. He also said that the “further direction of long-term development of aviation technology is to improve flight performance, ability to adapt to other combat control and combat systems, high maneuverability, versatility, optimal control and multi-mode use of the power. plant.”

Interestingly, Fedosov, the scientific director of the State Research Institute of Aviation Systems, suggested that modern aircraft are becoming too complex and expensive. “To proceed according to the logic of complication is a cruel practice,” he wrote. “And the bigger and heavier the plane, the more expensive it is.”

These are difficult questions for any country. But Russia also has to face problems that other countries do not. It would have to develop an advanced jet while battling an intense, resource-draining war in Ukraine and while international sanctions restrict imports of key electronic components that a future fighter will need.

Michael Peck is a defense writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy magazine and other publications. He has an MA in Political Science from Rutgers Univ. Follow him further Tweet And LinkedIn.

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