Air Platforms

Singapore Airshow 2016: Analysis - PAK-FA's Asian export hopes stymied by lack of 'fifth-generation' qualities

19 February 2016
Although it looks like a fifth-generation fighter, the T-50 PAK-FA currently lacks many of the systems associated with that class of combat aircraft, and it is doubtful whether they will be incorporated into future production blocks. Source: Sukhoi

The presence of the US Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor at the 2016 Singapore Airshow, and statements from the company about future demand in Asia for more F-35 models to be procured have highlighted the interest in the region for fifth-generation combat aircraft.

A number of air forces have a programme to acquire a fifth-generation fighter, but what qualifies an aircraft to carry that label is a "matter of perspective," a US industry representative told IHS Jane's .

Russian industry has consistently referred to the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA as a fifth-generation aircraft, but a careful look at the programme reveals that this is an 'in-name-only' designation. What qualifies a fighter aircraft as being a next-generation design is more than just having a stealthy-looking shape, said Lockheed Martin representatives.

Previously, Russian defence think-tanks had been projecting that the T-50 would be purchased by Asian nations that were already operating some model of the Sukhoi Su-27/30 'Flanker'-series. This would include Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. China, another major operator of Sukhoi aircraft is developing its own next-generation aircraft in the Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang FC-31.

Russian specialists familiar with the T-50 programme state that the aircraft will have trouble gaining traction in the Asian market as the on-board systems offer very little fifth-generation technologies despite what is projected to be a considerably higher price tag than the latest Su-35 'Flanker-E', ordered by China and Indonesia.

Both the T-50's NIIP Irbis radar and the NPO Saturn 117S engine that are two of the major subsystems of the T-50 are the same as those installed in the Su-35. Also, a number of the avionics on-board the T-50 and Su-35 are common. Those that will be part of the production-configuration of the T-50 will more likely than not be only incremental or evolutionary improvements over their analogues on-board the Su-35, say the same specialists.

Want to read more? For analysis on this article and access to all our insight content, please enquire about our subscription options

(330 of 572 words)

Industry Links

IHS Jane's is not responsible for the content within or linking from Industry Links pages.