According to the TASS news agency, Russian plane maker Sukhoi is developing a new next-generation single-engine fighter jet.
“The Sukhoi company is developing a single-engine light tactical plane with the takeoff weight of up to 18 tonnes. The plane’s maximum speed will be above 2 Mach. It will also have super-maneuverability and improved takeoff and landing performance, thanks to a thrust vector control engine. The plane’s thrust-to-weight ratio will be above 1,” news agency reported, citing an industry source.
In general, a single-engine aircraft is better in terms of cost and (less) maintenance requirement and Russia plans to develop new light combat aircraft to replace the aging fleet of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighters and Su-25 close-support aircraft.
Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov told reporters in December 2020 that the company was working on the concept of an advanced single-engine light-and medium-class piloted and unmanned combat plane.
“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.
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.