New Engines, Weapons for Russian Stealth Fighter

 - November 2, 2016, 7:34 AM
A prototype T-50 lands at Zhukovsky airbase near Moscow. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Russia’s T-50 fifth-generation fighter aircraft will enter flight-test with new engines in the fourth quarter of next year. The Sukhoi-designed jet is also known as Pakfa (Russian acronym for Perspective Aviation Complex of Frontal Aviation). More detail about the T-50’s weapons fit has recently emerged.

The Pakfa has been flying since 2010 on the power of NPO Saturn "Item 117" engines developing 14.5 tonnes (32,000 pounds) thrust and derived from the "Item 117S" engines found on the Sukhoi Su-35 Advanced Flanker. But the new engines are a fresh design designated "Item 30" that has already begun bench testing, according to industry sources. Their thrust is likely to be between 15 and 20 tonnes (33,000-44,000 pounds).

Speaking to the media last month, Alexander Artyukhov, general manager at United Engine, said that remaining development work on the new engine “will be done in the period of 2018to 2020, with state acceptance trials set for 2020.” Russian industry previously developed a 20-tonne-thrust fighter engine for the MiG 1.42 technology demonstrator that flew briefly in 2000. But it never entered production.

Meanwhile, a ninth prototype Pakfa has flown and is now undergoing “complex avionics testing” and weapons firing trials. Russian air force commander Gen. Viktor Bondarev told journalists recently that the military is ready to sign a contract next year for five aircraft to be delivered in 2018. Deputy defense minister for equipment procurement Gen. Yuri Borisov said the ministry is going to award an initial order “for at least one squadron” of Pakfa aircraft next year, powered by the existing "Item 117" engines.

United Aircraft (UAC) president Yuri Slyusar called the Pakfa development “one of UAC’s priority programs.” He continued, “If we succeed with Pakfa development, this will help us maintain competitiveness in the domain of frontal aviation in the long term.” Slyusar expects the initial order to be for 12 production airframes, adding to the planned total of 12 prototypes that would remain with the industry and testing establishments.

The Tactical Missile Corporation (TRV) recently revealed that it is working on 12 types of missile for the aircraft, targeting completion of trials on six types by next year and the remaining six by 2020. These include new air-to-air missiles: the RVV-MD for close-in combat, and RVV-SD for beyond-visual-range engagements. Compared with previous-generation models, they feature new homing systems with higher sensitivity and resistance to jamming. The RVV-MD employs a new twin-band infrared seeker with multi-element photo-receiver and digital signal processing. These innovations will double the distance of target acquisition compared to the previous-generation Vympel R-73E, while enlarging the missile’s seeking angles by 30 percent. The RVV-SD, which is a further evolution of in-service RVV-AE, features improved aerodynamics, a higher-power emitter and a more sensitive active radar homing head than its predecessor. The missile’s software has been “completely reworked” to enable a 35-percent increase in the maximum firing range and improved capabilities in defeating aerial targets by executing 12g maneuvers.

Air-to-ground weapons slated for the Pakfa include the Kh-38ME missile line of modular designs that allow for employment of different guidance systems and warheads. The Kh-38MLE version comes with a laser homing; the Kh-38MTE with a thermal imager; and the Kh-38MAE with an active radar seeker. There is also a Kh-38MKE version with satellite-aided homing.  

In addition to the KAB-500SE guided bomb with Glonass homing, which was combat-proved in Syria, the Pakfa may also use the much lighter (250kg) KAB-250LG-E with a similar homing system.

Furthermore, the Pakfa will carry OFZAB-500 "splinter/high-explosive/incendiary" and the ODAB-500PVM vacuum bomb. Examples of these munitions have been manufactured for testing.