As some of you may or may not be aware, I have quite an extensive interest in aviation, and military aviation in particular. Military jet fighter aircraft are frequently classed by their generation, which is a list of common features, capabilities, and design paradigms. The newest fifth generation designs are heavily stealth-oriented and designed to operate in battlefields where data is constantly being shared between air, land, and seagoing forces. With the F-22A Raptor in service with the US Air Force and the F-35 Lightning II set to be introduced into service gradually over the next few years, the next major fifth generation fighter on the radar is Russia’s PAK FA. Designed by Sukhoi with significant participation from the Indian government (who is set to be the second largest purchaser of this aircraft) it incorporates many fifth-generation technologies such as an advanced radar array, stealth design elements, and the ability to supercruise.
The PAK FA will include Russia’s second Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, after the one fitted to the MIG-35. A defining aspect of all fifth-generation fighters, AESA is being actively retrofitted to older planes as well. The AESA radar’s design allows for a high-power system that broadcasts over a wide frequency range, giving it outstanding coverage and range whilst preserving the stealth aspect of the aircraft. Combined with advanced avionics and powerful onboard computing systems, the plane is able to achieve something known as sensor fusion, where a single integrated picture of the battlefield is displayed to the pilot, reducing workload and allowing him or her to focus on the mission at hand while still staying on top of the overall tactical situation. The avionics allow for the sharing of data between ground forces and the aircraft as well as between multiple aircraft flying together.
Like its American brethren, the PAK FA is expected to utilize large amounts of composite materials, which help to reduce weight and radar cross section. A somewhat uncommon design element seen during testing is the presence of all-moving vertical stabilizers instead of traditional rudders. The engines are still in development by manufacturer NPO Saturn, but are expected to have 3D thrust vectoring capability. In comparison, all existing fifth-generation fighters utilize a 2D thrust vectoring arrangement, and the addition of 3D vectoring will greatly enhance the plane’s maneuverability. Another important feature is the ability to supercruise, or fly at supersonic speeds without using afterburners, which will enhance range, lower fuel consumption, and reduce the IR signature.
After successfully completing its maiden flight in January 2010, the design is currently undergoing flight testing and development for a planned introduction of 2015 to the Russian Air Force.
[Sources: Sukhoi; Aviation Week]