Thursday, December 18, 2014

How do you say “Top Gun” in Russian?

As the supplier of the world’s only fielded 5th generation fighter, the F-22, and the soon to be put into production F-35, America has had uncontested air superiority for decades.  Nothing fielded so far has been able to touch the Raptor, but that’s about to change.  The joint Russian/Indian fighter Sukhoi T-50 prototype is making a bid at the champion as the #1 contender, and by the stats, it’s going to take the belt.
The T-50 is faster, more maneuverable, and has more range.  When compared against the F-22, which struggled a couple of years ago in mock combat against the 4th generation German Typhoons, it’s going to be a close call.  When compared against the F-35, a non-specialized jet that has been created to fulfill multiple roles instead of just an air superiority weapon, it’s not really close.  The T-50 will mop the floor.

Of course, the T-50 isn’t going to be begin going into service until 2016 as the PAK-FA, but one of the more worrying aspects about it is that it’s not just for the Russian and Indian military, but they’re offering it for sale.  Russia has said that they expect to sell a thousand units to a rather interesting clientele including Iran and China.  The F-22, which was capped at 187 fighters, is not allowed to be exported by law, and while the F-35 is going to be used by various allies, it’s cheapest model is over $100 million per unit, while the PAK-FA is slated to cost half that.  This will open it up to a much larger market than an American fighter pilot should feel comfortable with, though admittedly over the next few decades. 

“Why do we care?” you might ask.  It’s not like there’s a whole lot of air battles going on at the moment.  A lot of people think the era of fighter jets fighting for air superiority before the naval or ground battle is over.  Maybe it is.  The belief that long-range beyond the visual range missiles will be the deciding factor in future air superiority theory for a long time.  The American military is always well equipped and prepared to fight the last war that it was in.  It’s been less successful at being prepared for the next one it enters, though.  The repercussions of not controlling the skies in an modern conventional conflict will be catastrophic.  Air superiority is not something that can be quickly regained once it is lost.  In fact, if the advantage is pushed, it will not be capable of being regained.  The results of American close air support on the enemies of the US has been well documented.  The thought of being on the other side of that equation is terrifying.  

The F-35 is pretty awesome though.  

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