KYIV, Ukraine: On Tuesday, the United Aircraft Corporation for the Construction of Russia (KCA) and the Sukhoi Aircraft Company used the opening day of the Moscow Aviation and Space (MAKS) to remove the results of a young stealth fighter with a motorcycle single. The proliferation of this aircraft, now called the Su-75 Checkmate Light Tactical Aircraft, became the core of the traditional Day One visit to the show by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Design is a new design that Moscow hopes to create a place for its fighter jet industry in the export market. Their goal is to give up sales of competing aircraft built by other Swedish nations JAS-39E / F Gripen, Lockheed Martin F-35. and even the Shenyang J-35, an evolving Chinese aircraft even longer than the Su-75 offering a cheaper, Russian-made alternative.
But there are serious questions to answer about both the marketing strategy and the technical capabilities of the aircraft, which can be combined to add the Su-75 to the long list of military aviation programs that never found life as an export.
In recent years, the only next-generation fighter produced in Russia has been the Sukhoi Su-57 a two-engine model with the general shape of a stealth aircraft. Other fighters still produced in Russia such as the modernized MiG-29 (called the MiG-35) and the Sukhoi Su-35 are older models dating back to the 1980s. They have little traction today when competing models are more technologically advanced and more affordable.
The Su-57 has so far been produced in small numbers (only 78 in total custom) with the Russian Air Force (VKS) as the sole customer and has proven much more expensive than originally anticipated. It also stalled when India, seen as the most promising export customer for the Su-57, refused to become an R&D or manufacturing partner; Russian fighter jet programs traditionally depend heavily on outside clients to help start and finance production.
Hoping to avoid that situation again, Russia proposed cooperation for the development of the Su-75 in the UAE (UAE) in 2017. An agreement on the two nations sharing the cost of the program would be signed at the Dubai Air Show November 2017. But an 11 a.m. announcement that Washington will change the previous policy and will allow Arab allied states to receive the F-35 that resolved the deal.
Akoma, a promotional video was released just a few days ago reveals that Russia has not given up on a sale to the powerful oil-rich financial power plant and the Gulf state. The film opens with a pilot in the UAE packing his flight bag after receiving a stern warning on his smartphone.
This scene is followed by pilots in three states viewed by Russians as short-term clients India, Vietnam and Argentina receiving a similar return signal to the base. They all join in a group with the pilots of a dozen other nations at an aerodrome while the plane is wrapped in a hangar. Message: The Su-75 could be another multinational program just like the F-35.
However, the aircraft will not be available at all times. The first flight of the new prototype is at least two years away. A version produced in series at least five to seven years in the future. And nations that are seen as the best prospects for a foreign sale may not be in a situation to wait that long.
Design and Performance Details
Discussions with Russian industry sources, plus a presentation on the evening of July 20 by KCA General Director Yuri Slyusar and Su-75 Chief Designer Alexei Bulatov provided details about the program.
- The project has moved beyond the model and paper model phase, with the aircraft shown this week being a current prototype demonstrator. Its design uses lessons learned from the Su-57 and is powered by one of the largest aircraft, two 5th generation izdeliye 30 engines.
- The Russian design team has used a complete complement of high-level digital resources, with the aircraft plan developed using the means of configuring computing fluid dynamics and the supercomputer-based cross-section radar (RCS) sector.
- The operation of the aircraft is supported by an automated logistics system called Matryoska, a reference to the famous hand-made wooden nesting dolls, to symbolize the lightness and modular composition of the aircraft. The electronic infrastructure of the aircraft is all open architecture and uses diagnostic systems that are mostly on board. This minimizes the amount of equipment needed at an aerodrome to maintain the aircraft. (Such a system echoes the F-35 ALIS system, which has been a major source of headaches for aircraft operators manufactured by Lockheed Martin.)
- Like other covert designs, the Su-75 carries missiles in a bay of internal weapons. The information plates displayed with the prototype state it carries the same air-released ammunition used as the Su-35 and Su-57. The maximum load of weapons is declared 16,300.
- The single engine produces 24,000 lbs of dry propulsion and 39,000 lbs of afterburner. This should produce a propulsion to weight ratio better than 1.00, but questions remain about the aircraft’s idle weight. The range of the aircraft in internal fuel without external tanks is 1,800 miles.
The design team also claims that there is a high efficiency of arm lift associated with the model. Particular attention has been paid to the V-shaped vertical tail which forms part of the low RCS aircraft.
Overall, while the aircraft is being presented as a new development, it is said to be based on a lightweight fighter concept originally developed at the Mikoyan Design Bureau more than 7 years ago. A longtime specialist of the Russian aircraft industry in Moscow told Breaking Defense, it is somewhat surprising that this design is now being credited to Sukhoi as most serious work on this type of single-engine platform was done on the MiG much longer first.
The two officials who made the presentation stated that one of the main advantages for the Su-75 was today that there is no single-engine, fifth-generation fighter available at a reasonable price. The clients we talked about want an inexpensive plane and one on which they can form their requirements.
The unit cost associated with the aircraft is US $ 25-30 million, which is the price point that the design team thinks will interest their key target customers. This focus on export sales is essential to the success of the program as VKS are not currently interested in any single engine design.
Slyusar stated that the hope of the KCA and Sukhoi is that they will be able to romance the VKS at the behest of the Su-75, but to date the program is funded by company funds and currently has no government support. In the meantime, there are ongoing conversations with different potential [export] buyers and that one of the additional fighter modifications discussed is a transport version.
Sources in Moscow indicate that the VKS is in dire need of affordable fighters that can be built in large numbers, but the leadership of the force may not support the production of Su-75s. It would also be problematic to sell this aircraft to export customers without being a record program in Russia. Also, if there is no more than a small share of export sales, the numbers do not reach the economies of scale required to support a production performance.
A transport variant of the Su-75 would almost certainly be proposed to the Indian Navy as a replacement for the MiG-29K-capable transport fighter, the force currently operating. The design team has also evaluated the possibility of a two-seater variant as well as an unmanned version, but there are no prospective buyers who have expressed interest in either of these options.
The big question mark is whether the Moscow industry can continue with this design concept to turn a fully functional aircraft. The industrial defense base has shrunk considerably in its capacity and overall size since 2017. Critical personnel also died last year due to the COVID pandemic, to include the general designer of the NIIP radar design office, Yuri Beliy.
While Sukhoi designers have proven that they can turn out to be a current prototype of this new aircraft, the colored / composite materials used in its construction may still be a question mark. In his presentation, Slyusar stated that it would take at least a year to complete the static vibration and roasting tests of the aircraft structure. This will be a real test of the materials industry made up of Russia, which is not as developed as it is in the US or Europe.
These materials are essential for low RCS aircraft. Not only would they have to be produced in extreme tolerance and the sections fused together without as much as a micron between them, but their radar absorption properties would also need to be baked in the oven for the aircraft to be low – maintenance platform as advertised. But Russia’s approach to theft in the past has been the opposite, a heavy dependence on work-seeking clothing and applications that require top-down renewal after each flight.
The other factor is that what makes a modern fighter aircraft effective in combat are its systems on board, which in the past have been the long proverbial pole in the design tent of Russian fighters. The izdeliye 30 engine is not yet in serial production and is still in the end of flight tests. Also, according to industry sources, Russia has not yet been able to design a set of cost-effective AESA radars and has problems with the technology required to produce transit / receiving radar modules.
Both KCA and Sukhoi officials state that the plane should make its first flight in two years and that production of the series could begin as soon as there are four, although more experienced observers say 5-7 years is more realistic. . Projections of software such as these have a tendency to always move to the right even in countries with more than a generation of experience in stealth aircraft design.
Therefore, it is not unreasonable to suggest that full-scale production of the Su-75 could be a much longer time to come if ever.
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