Warplanes: Another Attempt to Create the F-22ski

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April 23, 2007: Russia and India are collaborating to develop a fighter that can match the American F-22. When the Cold War ended in 1991, both the United States and Russia had already spent a decade working on designs for a "5th Generation Fighter." The Cold War ended because the Soviet Union had bankrupted itself trying to sustain an arms race it began in the 1960s. That meant a halt to work on a Russian 5th Generation Fighter. But the U.S. effort continued, and the F-22 was the result. Costing about $350 million each, the F-22 is the most expensive, as well as the most capable, fighter aircraft ever.

The Russians believe that, by being second, they can produce a fighter that matches the F-22 in capability, but costs far less. This will be a result of lower development costs. Some $70 billion was spent to develop the F-22. Many technologies in the F-22 can be stolen by the Russians, and other can be deduced (avoiding a lot of development trial and error, because you know something works). Russia also has some new tech that was developed near the end of the Cold War, but never put to use. Russian development costs could be much lower, and if the new Russian fighter can be produced at, say, about a third the cost of the F-22, far more can be built. In addition, the Russians and Indians are looking for export sales. The U.S. refuses (despite intense pressure from Israel and Japan) to export the F-22, leaving a large market for a competing fighter.

Can the Russians and Indians pull it off? It's not a sure thing. Russia developed some impressive fighters towards the end of the Cold War, and have kept a lot of their development teams together in the last sixteen years. This was done at great cost, because Russian fighter aircraft sales have only kicked into high gear over the past few years. So the Russians have the capability. The Indians are several decades behind the Russians in weapons development capability, but are catching up fast. The Indian cooperation would bring in more cash, and more export customers.

The new fighter might be closer to the F-35, than the F-22, in capabilities. But if the selling price is right, the market is there. If development costs get out of control, the effort will lose money. But the capability to develop a competitive fighter is there.

The Russians want to have the first flight test within two years. The first flight of the F-22 took place in 1991, but it was another fourteen years before the aircraft entered service.

 


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