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Monday, June 20, 2016

The Moment of Truth for the Russian Jet T-50 PAK-FA

Russia, it is the moment of truth for the T-50, Monday, the final prototype will rise in flight

(Franco Iacch)

In a few hours we will know the real capabilities of Russia's first fifth-generation platform. Next Monday, June 20, the eighth prototype of the T-50 PAK-FA Sukhoi will rise in flight in final perspective configuration.

The last T-50, fully equipped with the systems provided for in the specifications of the Ministry of Defense, could give way to mass production for the Russian Aerospace Forces. A second aircraft in the final configuration (the ninth T-50), will fly in September.

The production plant of Aircraft Association Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Far East Russia hopes to start mass production by the autumn of this year, with deliveries of the first stealth fighter in Moscow in June 2017. Needless to deny that there is much apprehension for test flights will begin next Monday.

Updates on the PAK-FA were abruptly interrupted a few months ago due to unspecified problems. We know that in six years, the six prototypes of the T-50 have only completed 700 test flights. Despite the proclamations and a production of the upcoming series (already postponed twice), the Russian Air Force reduced the initial order of sixty T-50 to a dozen platforms with changes implemented. The T-50 features both eighth AESA radar that the three-dimensional vector thrust control.

Right from the start, the design was considered sophisticated enough if not similar in performance to the F-22 Raptor. Whether it can be even higher this is open to question. The Russians confirm that Pak-Fa will be built in a number between 800 and 1000 units, including exports. For the T-50, is expected to forty years operating cycle, with an estimated cost of 100 million dollars to hunt. The twelve T-50 that will be delivered to the Ministry of Defense, will be subject to several tests before committing the government with an order of several billion dollars.

Leaving aside the real capabilities of the PAK-FA, he starts to spread a certain discontent among the military, related to the new platform cost. 100 million dollars for example, probably 120 in the early stages of Low Rate Initial Production. There are no data on development costs incurred. Figures which must be placed in the majestic rearmament plan wanted by Putin that will end, as a first step, in 2020.

If the Navy rearmament plan is achieving some success (just think of the submarines class Varshavyanka), in the Air Force, the Russians are paying inexperience with the approach of the new platforms. Eg. The T-50 is the first experience for the Russians with radar absorbing materials (RAM), than thirty years experience gained by the Americans with the F-117. Moscow, then, pay the inexperience with the fifth generation aviation technology, as the final integration of the various sensors and the aforementioned new low observability coating.

The T-50 got up in the air for the first time on January 29, 2010 (without, however, part of the avionics such as radar and the arms management systems). Probably, the real obstacle for the T-50, is the propulsion system. On 10 June 2014, one of two of the fifth prototype caught fire engines. By Sukhoi had to suspend production of the sixth prototype and use the components already designed to repair damaged aircraft. The seventh prototype then flew with a pair of AL-41F1, developed for the Su-35 Flanker-E. And 'opinion the AL-41F1 engines for pre-stealth platforms feel quite widespread valid, such as the Su-35, but not for the particular profile of a fifth generation fighter (geometry of the wings and ailerons, composite materials, coatings, etc ... etc ...).

The Russian Defense Ministry puts extreme trust in the prototype of the new Izdeliye 30, considered the ultimate engine for the T-50. Unfortunately, as confirmed to Russian media, the propulsion system development will only be completed between 2025 and 2027. If within shipbuilding (our thoughts turn to the design of the Akula submarines for example) the Russians have always been at the forefront , aeronautical research was halted in 1990 with the fall of the Soviet Union.

The propulsion is the most challenging aspect and expensive for the development of any aerial platform. From reliable turbofans F119 F-22, for example, derives the Pratt & Whitney F135 F-35. The transition for what seemed like a simple evolution, not turned out so natural and free of technical difficulties, still partly unresolved.

(Frames: MoD Fed. Russian)

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