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.