Global Insights: Russian Air Power on the Rebound

Global Insights: Russian Air Power on the Rebound

The first public showings of post-Soviet Russian-made aircraft were held last week at Russia's recently completed International Aviation & Space Salon exhibition, known as MAKS-2011 and held at Zhukovsky airfield outside Moscow. More than 400,000 visitors attended the five-day biennial aviation event, at which hundreds of aerospace firms were represented, including many foreign ones. The exhibition shed considerable light on the revival of Russian military aviation as it attempts to break free from lingering Soviet-era constraints.

Until a few years ago, Russian aerospace companies struggled to keep Soviet-era weapons platforms operational through upgrades. The Russian military-industrial complex rarely produced any modern sophisticated weapons systems. At best, it could manufacture a few prototypes, but then resource shortages would constrain their mass production. Trying to modernize old airplanes that had been designed during the 1970s and 1980s proved more expensive and less effective than anticipated.

At MAKS-2011, Russia's new single-piloted, delta-wing, twin-engine Sukhoi T-50 attracted the most attention. Shown publicly for the first time at the exhibition, the T-50 is the first warplane entirely designed and built in Russia since the USSR's demise. It is also Russia's first declared fifth-generation warplane. The T-50 was developed under the Advanced Front-Line Aviation Complex (PAK FA) project. The state-owned Sukhoi aircraft corporation assembles the plane at a plant located at Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the Russian Far East, where its maiden flight occurred in January 2010. The first prototype, which was quickly joined by a second, has since carried out more than 40 test flights. Two more prototypes should enter flight-testing later this year, and another two prototypes are scheduled to begin flying next year.

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