The Sukhoi company is proactively developing a fifth-generation lightweight single-engine fighter for the Russian Aerospace Forces. State funds for this development have not been allocated and so far the issue of their allocation is not even raised. The development should result in a light stealth fighter with one engine, variable thrust vector, supersonic, with shortened takeoff and landing.
Information about this, with reference to sources in the military-industrial complex, was published by TASS. And we, in general, have no reason not to trust this information. Yes, the niche of light fighters is occupied by the rapidly aging MiG-29 and its modifications, which are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with more and more advanced opponents. In addition, this aircraft, as we recall, is equipped with two engines, which makes its production, other things being equal, more expensive than the production of single-engine analogs. That is, the question has ripened for a long time, and one can only guess why they decided to return to it only now.
At the moment, the Russian Aerospace Forces operate only twin-engine fighters. The last single-engine representative of Russian military aviation was the MiG-27 fighter, decommissioned back in the nineties of the last century. But our sworn friends, the Americans, have an excellent representative of this class of aircraft - the F-16 multipurpose single-engine light fighter. This machine, developed back in the seventies of the last century, turned out to be so successful that it is still the main workhorse of the American Air Force. In total, more than 4600 aircraft of this type were built. And although the Americans stopped buying it for their Air Force back in 2005, small batches of the F-16 are still being produced for foreign buyers. In addition, some states, such as Turkey, are producing this fighter themselves, albeit with significant participation from American companies.
Probably, when evaluating the new development of Russian aircraft designers, it is reasonable to rely on some of the characteristics of the F-16. Such a comparison, although not entirely correct given the generational difference, will still allow us to understand whether the Russian project will be a significant step forward. If so, we should remember some of the parameters of the American car. For example, the weight of an empty F-16, depending on the modification, is approximately 9 tons. Normal takeoff weight, without outboard fuel tanks and with several air-to-air missiles for aerial combat, is about 13 tons. And the maximum take-off weight is approaching 22 tons, which is more than twice the empty weight. The afterburner power of the engine is, in both versions (installation of General Electric F110 and Pratt & Whitney F100 engines is possible) is about 13 tons.
With a normal load, the F-16 has a thrust-to-weight ratio of approximately unity. That is, the power of the engine is approximately equal to the mass of the aircraft, and if it is even simpler, it is able to rise vertically upward practically without acceleration and inertia, using only the thrust of its power plant. With a greater load, such a number becomes no longer possible, and with a significant loss of speed during climb, the fighter can already fall into a tailspin.
Also single-engine is another representative of the US Air Force, the F-35 fighter. But here it is very difficult to make a correct comparison, since this machine was clearly not developed for economy. Yes, during the development of the F-35, money was clearly not spared, it was supposed to become the main "war chariot" of the American armed forces in the first half of the twenty-first century, and the requirements laid down in the car already during the development of the concept were such that we can speak of a clearly defined the niche of this fighter, in principle, is impossible. Let's just say that with a normal take-off weight of 24 350 kg (version of the F-35A), the afterburner power of its engine is approximately 19 500 kg.
According to information announced by the TASS agency, the new Russian light fighter is planned to be created based on the technologies and developments that the Sukhoi design bureau has for the Su-57 project. And this is not only composite materials, stealth coating or advanced avionics, but also the second stage engine for this aircraft, better known as "Product 30". According to the available information, the afterburner thrust of this engine will be 18,000 kg. And it is not surprising that the source voiced exactly this maximum weight of the new single-engine fighter.
So, one engine, low radar signature, variable thrust vector, super-maneuverability, excellent takeoff and landing characteristics and thrust-to-weight ratio at the unit level, even for a vehicle with maximum takeoff weight. If you add to this advanced electronics, electronic warfare systems and advanced weapons systems, something very interesting begins to emerge.
It should be noted that the Sukhoi Design Bureau has experience in developing a single-engine light fighter. In the first half of the nineties, this design bureau carried out work on the fighters of the so-called "fiftieth" series - S-54, S-55 and S-56. One of them was to become a combat training, the other a light fighter of the classical type, and the third was to turn into a deck-based naval fighter. There is not much information about these developments, but it is known that the Sukhoi design bureau decided, as they say, “to start from the end” - reasonably reasoning that it would be much easier to adapt a carrier-based aircraft to conventional airfields than vice versa, they, as a base , considered the C-56 model.
According to available information, the weight of empty aircraft of this series was estimated from 5 to 7 thousand kilograms. The normal take-off weight was supposed to reach 12 tons, and the maximum speed of these machines was estimated at 2000 km / h.
Even earlier, in the first half of the eighties, the Sukhoi design bureau was working on the creation of a single-engine fighter with a forward swept wing. It was also assumed that it would be a supersonic carrier-based fighter with a maximum take-off weight of 11-12 tons, capable of taking up to two tons of payload.
Unfortunately, due to funding difficulties, both projects were terminated. But there is no doubt that Sukhoi still has all the data on these developments, as well as the relevant experience and developments. That is, the work has not begun from scratch, and one can hope that when developing a new fighter, the designers will be able to avoid childhood illnesses.
As you know, the layout of the new aircraft involves the placement of one air intake under the fuselage. This is quite logical, but there is an interesting point that is worth mentioning separately. On the desktop of Yuri Borisov, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, who, as you know, is in charge of the Russian defense industry, in December 2020, a model of an unknown aircraft was photographed (unfortunately, only fragmentarily). And this is precisely a fighter with one air intake located under the fuselage. This photo is on the Internet, and if you wish, you can easily find it. In addition, at about the same time, Sergei Chemezov, head of the Rostec state corporation, said that his company was proactively working on options for the concept of a fifth-generation light single-engine fighter. Moreover, what is very important, in manned and unmanned versions!
If you try to collect all the information that we have, you get something like this...
At the moment, the Russian military-industrial complex is actively working on the development of a fifth-generation light single-engine fighter. And let no one be fooled by the fact that the development is being carried out on an initiative basis - let's not be naive and accept as a fact that at Chemezov's level it is well known what our military needs and what the Government will soon pay for.
The fighter will be based on technologies and solutions developed on the Su-57 project, including an engine known as the "Product 30" with an afterburner thrust of 18,000 kgf. This looks quite logical, because it will save many billions (or trillions, if in rubles) by creating a full-fledged light fighter in a short time.
It is possible that the new machine will be immediately created in two versions - manned and unmanned. This is very reasonable, since already now computer simulations of air battles show the decisive superiority of artificial intelligence over living pilots.
The expected weight and size characteristics of the new fighter suggest that it will be better, that is, more payload and more versatile than the F-16 fighter. At the same time, its aerobatic characteristics, due to better thrust-to-weight ratio and variable thrust vector, should be higher. Well, the low radar signature only complements the picture, making the comparison not at all in favor of the American "workhorse".
As for the comparison with the F-35, everything is much more complicated here. We can definitely say only one thing - if the new Russian fighter is inferior to it in some way, it will not be very much. And if he significantly gains in price, which we still have the right to hope for, his appearance in the combat units of the Aerospace Forces will be completely justified.