The Sukhoi Design Bureau, now a part of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, has released the concept art of a previously canceled fifth-generation fighter program that was under development in the final years of the Soviet Union.
Sukhoi had developed the Su-27 Flanker fourth generation air superiority fighter which entered service in the Soviet Air Force in 1991, and was designed to outperform its most capable American rival of the time the F-15 Eagle. Work was underway at the time to develop a number of new aircraft including more advanced and specialized variants of the Flanker under programs which would later become the Su-30, Su-33, Su-34, Su-35, and Su-37.
A new fighter with radar-evading capabilities and next-generation engines, avionics, sensors, and fighter characteristics was simultaneously being developed alongside the new Flankers and was intended to outperform the latest American fighters being developed under the Advanced Tactical Fighter program – which would later produce the F-22 Raptor.
Work was also underway in the rival Mikoyan design bureau to develop a next-generation air superiority fighter under the better-known MiG 1.44 program, which was several years ahead of the Sukhoi program and had prototypes build by the end of 1991.
The next generation Sukhoi fighter features flat engine nozzles similar to those on the F-22, and a unique reverse swept wing design. Sukhoi would eventually build a reverse swept-wing fighter prototype, the Su-47, although the economic crisis in Russia following the Soviet collapse would seriously limit funding for such a program.
The Su-47 would use the fuselage from the Flanker design meaning it was not particularly stealthy and its resemblance to the original next-generation design concept was only partial. Both the MiG 1.44 and the Su-47 next-generation fighter programs would be canceled, and Russia would instead invest its modest resources into developing more capable variants of the Su-27 Flanker design the latest of which would enter service in 2014.
Sukhoi would later begin work on a more ambitious next-generation fighter program intended to develop a sixth-generation combat jet – what would eventually become the Su-57.
Technologies developed testing the Su-47 prototype would reportedly assist the development of this new fighter, although the flat nozzled next-generation engines have yet to enter service and development was delayed considerably due to the Soviet collapse.
Such engines are currently under development under the Izdeliye 30 program and will be installed on later variants of the Su-57.
The design is the most maneuverable in the world today, but with only a single next-generation fighter class in service Russia’s fleet remains far smaller, less diverse and less sophisticated than it would have been had the Soviet collapse not occurred. Soviet next-generation fighters were expected to enter service in the mid-late 2000s.