(by Franco Iacch)
The ninth T-50, is equipped with the systems provided in the specifications of the Russian Defense Ministry as the AESA radar and the three-dimensional thrust vector control, has started a few hours flight testing in the final configuration. The tenth and eleventh prototype of Sukhoi T-50 will be flown by next January. The twelfth and final aircraft of this squadron will be delivered in eight months to the Ministry of Defense.
The twelve T-50 will continue to be subject to several tests before committing the Kremlin with an order of several billion dollars. Launched the Low Rate Initial Production, the PAK-FA cost should range from 100 to 120 million to unit.
The production plant of Aircraft Association Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in Russian Far East, will start mass production by 2018, with deliveries of the first stealth fighters in the early months of 2019.
Moscow, meanwhile, publishes optimism for second-generation engines. The T-50 is currently powered by a pair of AL-41F1, developed for the Su-35 Flanker-E. Although great for pre-stealth platforms, such as the Su-35, the AL-41F1 engines were not designed for the particular profile of a fifth generation fighter. The T-50 is designed for innovative solution 30, but the propulsion system development will be completed only between 2025 and 2027 (although these estimate may be revised).
In 2018, the year that is expected to begin mass production of the T-50, the Russians are planning to have completed the development of second-generation engines. It should not be solution 30, but a new version of AL-41F1 able to enhance the features of the fifth-generation platform. The second-generation engines should enable the certification of the Initial Operational Capacity.
The propulsion is the most challenging aspect and expensive for the development of any aerial platform. From reliable turbofans F119 for F-22, for example, derives the Pratt & Whitney F135 for F-35. The transition for what seemed like a simple evolution, not turned out so natural and free of technical difficulties, they are still partly unresolved. The Russians confirm that Pak-Fa will be built in a numbers between 800 and 1000 units, including exports. For the T-50, is expected forty years operating cycle, with an estimated cost of 100 million dollars to unit. There are no data on development costs incurred.
The T-50 is the first experience for the Russians with radar absorbent materials than thirty years of experience gained by the Americans with the F-117.