October 24, 2007: India
has agreed to join the Russian effort to build a superior aircraft to the
American F-22 (a "Fifth Generation Fighter"). The Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA is still
being designed, and is not expected to fly until 2010, and won't be in service
for another 5-10 years (depending on how quickly the new technology can be
obtained). The T-50 looks a lot like the F-22, and the project will cost $10
billion. India will contribute several billion dollars, and get involved in
developing some of the technology.
The benefits of this
arrangement are many. In addition to the financial and technical help, Russia
will have a guaranteed export customer, and a better chance at increasing the
number produced, and bringing down the per-aircraft cost. If only 200 are
produced, each aircraft will carry a $50 million share of the development cost.
Production costs for such an aircraft could be as much as $100 million. While
Russia and India have lower labor costs, wage rates are not a major factor
here. You have to build a lot of expensive, and precise, production facilities.
In addition to stealth,
super-cruise and multiple sensors (some of them passive), the T-50 will also
contain multiple electronic systems, all possessing a lot of technology that
neither Russia, nor, India, have at the moment. While Russia has its spies
trying to steal all the technogoodies it can, that may not be enough. For the
last 70 years, the Russians have been designing hot (although often flawed)
aircraft, that tended to be flown by low quality pilots. The Russians say they
are trying to break out of this cycle, but they've been saying that for several
decades. Time will tell. And so will the T-50.