Sixth generation fighter jet on Russia’s design board

Drawing by Dmitry Divin

Drawing by Dmitry Divin

The general requirements for the aircraft are clear: the body is to be made of composite materials and it should attain high speeds and have the latest electronic warfare equipment, avionics, and a propulsion system.

Last week the director-general of the Foundation for Advanced Research Andrey Grigoryev told journalists at the Open Innovations Forum that “Russian scholars have already started work on the creation of a sixth generation fighter jet. The new model will be manufactured from composite materials.”

“Our task is to lay the groundwork for the creation of a 6th generation fighter jet. Such projects are also now being considered. They are primarily associated with materials and engines,” Grigoryev added.

Number Six’s new look

Many specialists from the aircraft industry or Russian Air Force have made repeated comments about the sixth generation fighter jet. They may be found in the statements of the UAC (United Aircraft Corporation) president Mikhail Pogosyan, and the remarks of the director of the UAC’s Military Aviation Programs Directorate Vladimir Mikhailov, the former commander of the Russian Air Force Pyotr Deinikin, and the honoured USSR test-pilots Sergey Bogdan and Anatoly Kvochur. If all of their statements are summarized, the conclusion may be come to that work on such a project is being carried out but a common vision is yet to be worked out on how the aircraft must be or what tasks it will be called upon to perform.

The general approaches to the project are well-known. The aircraft's body will be made of a highly durable and lightweight composite material. The fighter jet must possess not only supersonic speed but must be able to attain hypersonic – over Mach 6-7 – speeds at certain stages of flight. Not every metal is capable of withstanding the heating of the fuselage at such a speed. This means that the creation of a new composite capable of meeting all of these requirements is necessary.

“Number Six” needs a new and powerful engine able to function not only in the atmosphere, but also in airless space. It is not excluded that one of the tasks of the new apparatus will be exiting into open space and flying in an orbital trajectory.

Also needed are a new antenna system and avionics system capable of functioning effectively and in a stable manner in all flight modes and all circumstances. The system should also maintain constant communication with ground and air command centres and spacecrafts. Finally the aircraft would needs an on-board electronic warfare system designed not only to suppress the communication and control systems of a probable opponent but also to neutralize air-to-air or surface-to-air missiles.

If everything regarding the “filling” of the aircraft and its lining materials is clear, then the main question is what a sixth generation craft needs to be like – manned or unmanned. An advantage for the unmanned craft is that there is an absence of risks to the life of a pilot, the preparation and training of whom costs immense sums of money and takes a rather long time. Moreover, a drone does not require a human life-support system on board and its time in flight is not tied to the physical capabilities of a pilot. However, a robotic drone, no matter how highly intelligent the electronic computing system it is equipped with may be, must be controlled from the ground by operator commands. And these, for various reasons, can fail to transmit or be delayed. This fact alone speaks to the advantage of a fighter jet operated by a combat pilot.

Combat duty

Besides India, which is creating a fifth generation fighter jet in cooperation with the Russian company Sukhoi, only a few countries are capable of making such an aircraft. Who will the sixth generation fighter jet be battling against? There’s the US, which already has F-22s and F-35s in the air – one of them even participated in bombing Islamic State terrorists in Syria. China has disseminated photographs of its fifth generation fighter jet on the web.  It is very difficult to imagine any of these states, which incidentally have nuclear missile arsenals along with fighter jets, warring against each other. The risk of receiving a nuclear missile strike in response to aggression is simply too great.

Then against whom shall the fifth and later sixth generation fighter jet be used? As of yet, there are no definitive answers. For now, the work on the creation of the “fighter jet of the future” is still on the design board and its designers, along with the military men ordering its production, need to come to a common understanding regarding the shape the future combat vehicle will take and the missions and targets that it, its weaponry, and its pilot will face in the future.

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