Russia is developing a new class of next-generation fighter jet to complement the heavier Su-57 fighter and upcoming MiG-41 heavy interceptor.
According to Russia’s TASS state-run news agency, Russia’s state hi-tech corporation Rostec is working on a concept of an advanced single-engine light- and medium-class piloted and unmanned combat plane, Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov said on Monday.
“Indeed, work is underway to develop a combat aviation system of the future in its light and medium classes. Under the design, this may be a universal platform in the manned and unmanned versions. The company is working on the concept and the operational requirements for such a platform. We are doing this on our own initiative so far, without [federal] budget funds,” the Rostec chief said, responding to a question about the plans to create a light single-engine fifth-generation fighter for Russia’s Aerospace Force.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has not placed any orders for this work so far. However, Rostec believes in the expediency of developing the new fighter, possibly, in cooperation with foreign partners, Chemezov pointed out. The Rostec chief said “this is an interesting theme from the viewpoint of promoting such a plane for exports.”
Given that such a fighter is developed and manufactured using Rostec’s funds, the company will be able to deliver it for exports on its own, Chemezov said. “Especially, if this is a joint development with some state. However, the Defense Ministry may purchase it for its own needs as well. Naturally, the plane will have to be upgraded to the level required by the Defense Ministry for its interior, if a decision is made,” Chemezov said.
Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov announced in 2017 that Russia was planning to develop a fifth-generation light fighter in cooperation with other countries. As Head of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) Yuri Slyusar specified at the time, Russia would be represented in the project by the UAC as the parent organization and also by the Sukhoi Company that has developments on the fifth-generation fighter and the MiG Aircraft Corporation that has developments on single-engine planes.
UEC-Klimov Company Executive Director Alexander Vatagin earlier specified that Russia had the potential to restart the production of inexpensive single-engine fighter jets whose motor could be developed on the basis of the available RD-33 engine.
Russia’s Air Force Command made a decision in the early 1990s to give up the production of single-engine combat planes. At that time, the Russian Air Force operated MiG-23, MiG-27 and Su-17M aircraft of various modifications.
The new aircraft is likely to be the first single engine fighter Russia has produced since the Soviet Union closed production lines for the MiG-21BiS, MiG-23 and MiG-27 third generation fighters in the 1980s.
The fact that it will likely use the same engine as the Su-57 will allow for larger-scale production of the Saturn 30 meaning more benefits from economies of scale.
The program can potentially be pursued at a low cost due to only limited requirements for funds for research and development, as the two aircraft are expected to use many of the same technologies ranging from their sensors and stealth coatings to air to air missiles and laser defence systems. Where the Su-57 can carry ten air to air missiles in its internal bays, its lighter counterpart will likely be restricted to six or less based on precedents set by other relationships between lighter and heaver complementary fighters.
The new single-engine jet could provide cost-effective means to replace a portion of Russia’s older heavyweight designs such as the Su-27 and Su-30, with the new aircraft expected to have much lower operational costs and maintenance requirements and significantly superior capabilities.