Russia has reportedly successfully test-flown its first fifth generation fighter jet prototype. Formally known as the Prospective Aircraft Complex of Frontline Aviation (PAK-FA), the craft made its 47 minute maiden voyage on 29th January. Manufactured by the Russian state owned Sukhoi Aircraft Corporation, the development of this tactical frontline stealth fighter jet is being seen as a significant milestone in the efforts of the country to modernize its post Soviet–era military technology.

Taking place at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur facility in Siberia, the demonstration of the Sukoi T-50 prototype was the first time since the break up of the Soviet Union that a fighter jet has been completely designed and built by Russian companies. While fourth–generation fighters typically feature multi–role capabilities, fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) incorporate stealth technology, supercruise, thrust–vectoring and integrated avionics.

As well as the stealth technology designed to eradicate a plane’s radar signature, the 5,500km-range T-50 PAK-FA features an advanced avionics suite, multi-spectral reconnaissance and surveillance systems and several automatic controls. The twin-engine unit is all weather capable, with the ability to take off on a strip around 400 meters in length as well as the capacity for sustained supersonic flight and repeated in-flight refueling. The new fighter jet is equipped with high-precision air-to-air, air-to-surface and air-to-ship missiles, with two 30mm canons enabling simultaneous attacks on air and ground targets.

India and Russia have agreed to co-develop the T-50 PAK-FA fighter and share the estimated US$8-10 billion development costs. Mikhail Pogosyan, Director of Sukhoi said of the project that he was “strongly convinced it would excel its Western rivals in cost-effectiveness and will not only allow strengthening of the defence power of the Russian and Indian air forces, but also gain a significant share of the world market".

The unveiling of the fifth generation fighter jet is being seen my many as a milestone for Russia in its bid to boost its ageing weaponry, with the country keen to demonstrate that they have the military technology available to rival that of the West. However some critics are stating the T-50 PAK-FA craft displayed is merely a “fourth generation jet fighter with fifth generation characteristics”.

Sukhoi has developed the aircraft to rival the American F-22 Raptor, currently the only other fifth generation jet fighter in operation in the world (another, the F-35 Lightning II is currently being developed primarily by the US and Britain). With units projected to cost upwards of US$140 million each to produce, Russia is hoping to begin serial production of the T-50 PAK-FA in 2015.

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